Dear Savvy Senior,
How much does a typical funeral and body burial cost today? My wife and I are interested in prearranging our funerals but would like to have a cost idea before going in so we can plan and budget appropriately.
— Planning Ahead
It definitely pays to know what charges to expect when pre-planning a funeral. Most people don’t have a clue and can often be upsold thousands of dollars’ worth of extra services they may not want or need. Here’s a breakdown of what you can expect.
The first thing you need to be aware of is that funeral costs will vary considerably depending on your geographic location, the funeral home you choose and the funeral choices you make. With that said, here’s a breakdown of what an average funeral costs, nationwide, according to the most recent data from the National Funeral Directors Association.
Professional services fee: This is a basic non-declinable fee that covers the funeral provider’s time, expertise and overhead: $2,300.
Transfer of the remains: This is for picking up the body and taking it to the funeral home: $350.
Embalming and body preparation: Embalming is usually mandatory for open-casket viewing, otherwise it’s not required unless the body is going to be transported across state lines. Embalming costs $775. Other body preparations, which includes hairdressing and cosmetics, runs $275.
Funeral viewing and ceremony: If the viewing and funeral ceremony is at the funeral home, you’ll be charged for use of the chapel and any necessary staff. Costs: $450 for viewing, and $515 for funeral ceremony.
Metal casket: This is a big money maker for funeral homes, with markups of up to 300% over the wholesale price: $2,500.
Funeral transportation: Use of hearse and driver; $325 to transport the body to the cemetery. Use of a service car/van: $150.
Memorial printed package: This includes printed programs and memorial guest book: $183.
In addition to these costs, there are also a number of cemetery costs like the plot or mausoleum fee, the vault or grave liner that most cemeteries require, and the opening and closing of the grave, all of which can run between $2,000 and $3,000; and the gravestone, which typically runs between $1,000 and $3,000.
You’ll also need to budget for related expenses like flowers for the funeral ($200 to $400), the newspaper obituary fee ($100 to $800 or more), the clergy honorarium ($200 to $300) and extra copies of the death certificate ($5 to $35 per copy depending on the state).
All told, the average cost of a total U.S. funeral today with viewing and cemetery burial is around $12,000.
Ways to Save
If this is more than you’re willing or able to pay, there are ways to save. For starters, you should know that prices can vary significantly by funeral provider, so it’s wise to shop around. If you need some help, there are websites you can turn to like Parting.com that lets you easily compare prices online based on what you want.
When evaluating funeral providers, be sure you get an itemized price list of services and products so you can accurately compare and choose what you want.
The most significant way to save is to request a “direct burial” or “direct cremation.” With these options you and your wife would be buried or cremated shortly after death, which skips the embalming and viewing. If you want a memorial service, you can have it at the graveside or at your place of worship without the body. These services usually run between $1,000 and $3,000, not counting cemetery charges.
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.