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Understanding Funeral Costs: How To Save Money On Funeral Expenses

Navigate funeral costs with confidence using our guide on understanding fees, rights under the Funeral Rule, and tips for planning a meaningful service within your budget.

Funeral costs can add up. Industry surveys show the median price for a burial with service and viewing is over $8,000 in the U.S. Cremation with similar services is about $6,000, but still not cheap. Even direct cremation costs, often under $2,000, may still leave you mystified about what is included in the price, especially if you were lured by a low advertised price deal which, unbeknownst to you, came with additional add-on fees.

The good news is that a few tools can help you demystify the often confusing costs of funerals. Your chosen funeral provider can provide a funeral costs breakdown that helps you understand which items are mandatory and which are optional. It's important to remember that not every offered service is a must-have for a meaningful farewell; what's essential is that the arrangements reflect the unique preferences and values of you and your loved ones.

We’ll share some tips here to help you understand the charges and your funeral consumer rights, especially those related to the “disposition” of your loved one’s body. 

Understanding the Funeral Rule and GPL

The Federal Trade Commission regulates the funeral industry, which enforces the consumer rights law, the “Funeral Rule.” Under the Funeral Rule, funeral directors must provide prices over the phone without requiring your name, address, or phone number first. Many providers will also mail their price lists, and some post them online. Consumer advocates are pushing the FTC to make online posting mandatory, as it is now in California. Posted prices are likely to become more and more common as consumers demand the convenience they find with other online sites.

The GPL: Your Funeral Consumer Rights

The FTC says you must be given a written, itemized price list when you visit a funeral home. This list is called a General Price List (GPL). It must contain all the items and services offered and their costs. The document is yours to keep. See our tips for understanding the GPL here.

Also, the FTC says you must be given a written statement of what you are buying and how much it costs — before you pay. You can find more about your rights under the Funeral Rule here.

GPL: Mandatory Funeral Costs Breakdown

Your chosen funeral provider must disclose these prices:

  • Direct cremation
  • Immediate burial
  • Basic services of funeral director and staff, and overhead
  • Transfer of remains to funeral home
  • Embalming
  • Other preparation of the body (dressing, cosmetology) 
  • Use of facilities and staff for
  • Viewing
  • Funeral ceremony
  • Memorial service
  • Use of equipment and staff for a graveside service
  • Hearse
  • Limousine
  • Forwarding remains to another funeral home
  • Receiving remains from another funeral home
  • Caskets

Some cemeteries require a burial vault or grave liner. These prices must be available on a separate price list. 

Additional Fees: What They Are and How to Avoid Them

It is always OK to ask your provider about specific fees and whether you can skip those items. All providers have the right to charge a basic fee but must disclose what that fee is. They can also charge you for items purchased from other vendors but must disclose those fees, though they are not required to tell you the amount or percentage of their markup.

The FTC recently conducted an undercover sweep of funeral homes to make sure they were giving consumers accurate price information, and nearly 40 were given warning letters as a result. So when you ask for the GPL, know that you are only asking for what is legally required under federal law to be given to you.

Red Flags in Funeral Pricing: What to Watch Out For

The consumer group Funeral Consumer Alliance says to watch for these red flags:

  • Handwritten or missing prices 
  • The cremation or burial charge is the same or higher if you supply the urn or casket from an outside vendor (the group says this is an illegal “handling fee” for using a third-party casket).
  • There is no option for an alternative container for cremation, or its price is missing. If a funeral home offers this option, it must display this price.
  • You find another mandatory charge besides the “basic services fee,” such as a charge for handling third-party payments.
  • Any required item is “free” or “no charge.” That’s because it implies that the cost has been rolled into another item's price, which prevents you from declining it.

The FCA explains what to do if you see a serious violation here. Consumer groups like the FCA are pushing the FTC to make the GPLs more consistent and easier to read for consumers.

Translating Funeral Home Jargon 

Like many industries, the funeral business has its own jargon, words and phrases which often confuse consumers.

The end-of-life planning website Cake explains a few of them to help you as you read the GPL. For example: 

  • Casketing: Placing the body in the casket. 
  • Sanitary care: Washing and preparing the body. 
  • Sheltering remains: Storing the deceased.

Tips for Navigating Funeral Costs: Understanding Mandatory and Optional Items

When reviewing a funeral provider's General Price List (GPL), it's essential to understand that while certain services are mandatory, many others are optional. This allows you to tailor the funeral according to what you value most, mirroring what you and your family find meaningful. Beyond the required "basic services fee" charged by providers, you can select or decline offerings based on your personal preferences and needs.

It's worth noting that funeral services cater to a wide array of preferences, reflecting the diversity in how individuals and families choose to honor their loved ones. The items listed on the GPL accommodate various traditions, customs, and wishes, not compel you into choices that don't align with your vision. Understanding this can help you navigate the options more confidently, ensuring you only pay for what genuinely matters to you.

Package Rates or A La Carte: Which Is a Better Deal?

Some funeral homes offer package deals that bundle services at a flat rate. If these packages align with your desires and budget, they can simplify decision-making. However, if you find some aspects of the package unnecessary, opting for an "a la carte" approach allows you to select only the services that resonate with you and your family's values and traditions.

The best funeral directors understand this and are committed to working with you to craft a service that honors your loved one while respecting your budget. They are there to guide you through the process, helping you discern which expenses are obligatory and which can be adjusted or omitted, all to facilitate a service that is as personal and meaningful as possible.

For more insights and tips on creating a heartfelt farewell that respects both your budget and your loved one's legacy, don't hesitate to explore our additional resources. Our article, "6 Creative Budget-Friendly Ways to Personalize Memorials," offers innovative ideas that can help you plan a touching tribute without overspending. You can also take a look at How to Compare Funeral Costs so You Don't Overspend for more tips on making meaningful and cost-effective choices.