Dear Savvy Senior,
When my brother died last year, my sister and I had a regular funeral for him and got stuck with a $12,000 bill. Can you recommend some funeral cost cutting tips or cheaper alternatives? I don't want to stick my kids with a big funeral bill after I'm gone.
With the average cost of a full-service funeral running over $10,000 today, many people are seeking alternative options to make their final farewell more affordable. Depending on how you want to go, here are some money saving options to consider.
Traditional funeral: If you're interested in a traditional funeral and burial, your first money saving step is to shop around and compare funeral providers, because prices can vary.
If you want some help, contact your funeral consumer alliance program. These are volunteer groups that offer information and prices on local funeral providers. See funerals.org/affiliates-directory or call 802-865-8300 for contact information.
There are also free websites you can turn to, like funeralhomeindex.com that lets you compare prices, and funeraldecisions.com that will provide estimates from local funeral homes based on what you want.
When comparing, make sure you take advantage of the "funeral rule." This is a federal law that requires funeral home directors to provide you with an itemized price list of their products and services so you can choose exactly what you want. Be sure to ask for it.
Another way to lower your costs is to buy your own casket. You can save at least 50 percent by purchasing one from a store or online and having it delivered to the funeral home, and the funeral home providing the service must accept it. Two good casket-shopping resources that may surprise you are Walmart.com and Costco.com, which offer a variety of caskets and urns at discounted prices.
Direct burial: Another way to cut your funeral home bill is to get a direct burial. With this option your body would be buried shortly after death, skipping the embalming, viewing and use of the funeral facilities. If your family wants a memorial service they can have it at the graveside or at your place of worship without the body. These services usually cost between $1,000 and $2,000, not counting cemetery charges. All funeral homes offer direct burial.
Cremation: An increasingly popular and affordable way to go, cremation can run anywhere from around $600 (for a direct cremation) up to $4,000 or higher depending on the provider and services you choose. To locate funeral homes that offer cremation or cremation providers in your area, look in your local yellow pages under "cremation" or "funeral" or visit cremation.com.
Green burial: An eco-friendly green burial is another affordable option that costs anywhere from $1,000 to several thousand depending on the provider. With a green cemetery burial, the body is buried in a biodegradable coffin or just wrapped in a shroud, without embalming chemicals or a burial vault. The Green Burial Council (greenburialcouncil.org, 888-966-3330) has a state listing of cemetery operators who accommodate green burials, as well as funeral professionals who provide the services.
Veteran's burial: If you are a veteran, you're entitled to a free burial at a national cemetery and a free grave marker. This benefit also extends to spouses and dependent children. Some veterans may even be eligible for funeral expense allowances too. To learn more, visit www.cem.va.gov or call the VA at 800-827-1000.
Body donation: Donating your body to a medical facility for research is another popular way to go, and it's completely free. After using your body, your remains will be cremated and your ashes will be buried or scattered in a local cemetery or returned to your family. To locate body donation programs in your state, see anatbd.acb.med.ufl.edu/usprograms.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of "The Savvy Senior" book.