How to Plan a Funeral that Doesn’t Cost an Arm and a Leg

The memorial for Michael Jackson cost the city of Los Angeles $1.4 million, according to the Associated Press. While most of us won’t be remembered at the Staples Center in front of 11,000 people, funerals are expensive.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, a traditional funeral costs about $6,000, and many funerals run well over $10,000. Costs include the casket, embalming, the service, cemetery site, and grave liner. In short, death is big business in the United States.

And to make matters worse, most of us plan a funeral while dealing with the emotional trauma of the death of a loved one. We find ourselves making important financial decisions in the midst of an emotional crisis with very little time to consider our options. Our sadness for the loss of a loved one, moreover, sometimes expresses itself in high cost funeral decisions.

With a little effort, however, we can plan a respectful memorial without breaking the bank. So what follows are a number of tips, resources, and links to help you plan a low cost funeral.

Know the “Funeral Rule”

The Funeral Rule, which is enforced by the Federal Trade Commission, requires funeral directors to provide you with certain information. For example, if you ask in person about funeral arrangements, the funeral home must give you a written price list of the goods and services offered by the home. The idea is to prevent a funeral director from showing you only the goods or services he or she wants you to purchase. And If you want to buy a casket, the funeral provider must show you descriptions of the available selections and the prices before actually showing you the caskets.

Here are some additional requirements of the Funeral Rule:

  • you have the right to choose the funeral goods and services you want (with some exceptions)
  • the funeral provider must state this right in writing on the general price list
  • if state or local law requires you to buy any particular item, the funeral provider must disclose it on the price list, with a reference to the specific law
  • the funeral provider may not refuse, or charge a fee, to handle a casket you bought elsewhere
  • a funeral provider that offers cremations must make alternative containers available

The Federal Trade Commission offers additional information on the Funeral Rule.

Consider Direct Burial or Direct Cremation

With direct burial, the body is buried shortly after death. A direct burial avoids the cost of embalming, and a memorial service can still be held at the cemetery or after the burial.

Likewise, direct cremation occurs shortly after death. As with direct burial, direct cremation avoids the cost of embalming. It also avoids the cost of a casket.

Keep in mind that state laws vary on whether the deceased must be embalmed. In some instances, it depends on how quickly after death the body is buried. Here’s one resource that lists the state laws on embalming.


The cost of caskets can range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars. The average casket costs around $2,000, although some mahogany, copper, and brass caskets can exceed $10,000. According to the FTC, “industry studies show that the average casket shopper buys one of the first three models shown, generally the middle-priced of the three.”

If you’ve opted for direct cremation, the only purpose of the casket is to transport the body to the crematorium. Some funeral homes even rent caskets for this purpose. And if you’ve elected for direct burial, a simple casket can be purchased for about $1,000. In addition, you don’t have to buy the casket from the funeral home. Shop around, and if the best deal is found somewhere else, the funeral home must be willing to use the casket without additional fee.

To give you an idea of price, you can visit


All veterans are entitled to a a free burial at the National Cemetery and a free grave marker. This benefit also extends to spouses, dependent children, and some civilians who have provided military-related service and some Public Health Service personnel. You can find more information by visiting the Department of Veterans Affairs’ website at or calling 1-800-827-1000.

Additional Resources

Here are some additional resources that you may find helpful in planning a low cost funeral:

Paying Final Respects: Your Rights When Buying Funeral Goods & Services

Funerals: A Consumer Guide

Topics: Personal Finance

5 Responses to “How to Plan a Funeral that Doesn’t Cost an Arm and a Leg”

  1. Thank you for the information. These are great things to consider. I think knowledge is power and contacting the FTC is a great way to understand what you should look for. like you state in the post, you should get everything in writing to help you make the best arrangements and know what to expect to pay. I think planing a funeral can be a very stressful time for family members and knowing what you want before you pass on can really help to ease that stress for those who have to put it together.

  2. Elden Gatley

    I agree that veterans should take advantage of the free burial option for them and their family. I plan on most likely doing so for me and my family whenever it becomes our time to go. It’s a great way for veterans to save quite a bit of money.

  3. Thank you for sharing this advice on planning a low cost funeral. It is nice that there are so many options when it comes to planning a funeral for yourself or for a loved one. In fact, I have been thinking of planning my estate and funeral so that I can make sure that the procession will go smoothly. If I follow this guide, I could save some money doing that too.

  4. You can also shave a considerable amount of money by purchasing a previously-owned burial plot. People sometimes buy blocks of plots for large families and often end up not needing one or more of them. Just look in your local classified ads or “Thrifty Nickel” paper for people selling plots. In addition to getting a plot for as little as a third of the cost of a new plot, the “pre-owned” plot will likely be in a more established (and likely more scenic) part of the cemetery. In our Mom’s case, the “pre-owned” plot we bought was very near a nice old tree and a little stone bench in a very established part of the cemetery. (The newer plots are off in the back corner and have few trees, walking paths, etc.)

    Also, we purchased a really nice discontinued showroom model oak casket for just about $250 more than the most basic metal caskets. We had to wait for the funeral director to fetch it out of the back storage room and set it up for presentation, but it was so much nicer than what we would’ve been able to afford for our Mom otherwise. It even had a pink rose-themed liner which was her favorite color & flower. And it featured a nifty little keepsake drawer in the lower lid that we tucked some letters and personal mementos into.

    These little things sound so trivial months later, but they can be of some comfort at the time when you’re dealing with the traumatic loss.

Leave a Reply