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How to Plan a Funeral on a Budget

Funerals are expensive, much more expensive than most families expect. Even though you're not required to purchase all the bells and whistles, it can be difficult to plan a funeral that's much cheaper than the national average, especially if you're not sure what to cut and where to look.

How much does a funeral cost?

The average funeral costs about $9,000 in the United States. Many families and individuals are grieving, leaving them vulnerable to sales tactics or to choosing what’s right in front of them instead of shopping around. When planning a funeral, here’s some of the costs you should keep in mind:

Traditional Funeral with a Viewing and Burial

  • Basic services fee: $2,000
  • Staffing fees: $1,300
  • Transportation (hearse, transporting the body to and from facilities): $600
  • Preparation of the body (cleaning, dressing, embalming): $950
  • Products (casket, flowers, programs, etc.): $2,450
  • Plot, vault, and headstone: $4,300

Total: $11,600 (+ any costs associated with the reception)

Fortunately, if you’re on a tight budget, there are many ways to save money while still giving your loved one a meaningful goodbye.

Consider the method of disposition

What you choose to do with your loved one’s body (the method of disposition) is usually the biggest factor in terms of funeral cost.

Traditional burial
Traditional burials are the most expensive method of disposition and require the most amount of additional services to prepare for (such as embalming, preparation of the body, casket, transportation, etc.). Most caskets cost upwards of $2,500 -- which doesn’t include the services that typically go along with a traditional burial (such as embalming, preparation of the body, displaying of the body, transportation, etc.). You can save on a traditional burial by purchasing a casket online or directly from the manufacturer.

Cremation is the cheaper method of disposition when compared to burial. An average cremation can start out around $495 (if you choose direct cremation) and can cost upwards of $3,000, depending on your location and the services you choose. Direct cremation (where the body is almost immediately cremated after death in a simple cremation container) is always the least expensive of the cremation options.

Whole body donation
When you donate a body to science (e.g. medical research), the organization will usually cover any final disposition costs when they are finished. Some will even return ashes to the family. Many people choose this option because it allows their loved one’s body to continue to do good, in addition to saving the family many thousands of dollars.

Organize the memorial yourself

Holding a traditional or formal service through a funeral home, especially when the body is present, can lead to a ton of extra costs (transportation, embalming, staffing, venue, etc.) that can stretch your budget. Here's some of the costs to expect:

Traditional funeral with a viewing and burial: $11,600

Immediate burial without services: $8,800

Cremation with traditional memorial services: $4,800

Direct cremation without services: $2,300

Burials and services add on a ton of associated costs that you can avoid by having a direct cremation and holding services on your own.

Consider holding a memorial service or celebration of life in a public venue or space that meant a lot to your loved one. Some popular choices are:

  • Churches
  • Public parks
  • Community centers
  • Family homes
  • By a beach or lake
  • On a boat
  • In a sports venue
  • At a local restaurant

Take advantage of the internet

More and more can be done online these days, and many people find that using the internet for funeral planning both makes the process easier and saves them lots of money. Here are some ways you can take advantage of online services:

  • Publish the obituary online. Fewer and fewer people read the newspaper, so why pay hundreds of dollars for a newspaper obituary when you can publish one on for free?
  • Purchase funeral products online. Funeral homes often markup their caskets and other products dramatically. You can purchase caskets, urns and more on Ever Loved for about half the price.
  • Share funeral details online. It’s easy to create a free memorial website on Ever Loved where you can share funeral information and collect RSVPs. This will save you money on creating printed announcements and physical programs. (Plus, it will save you tons of time.)
  • Hold the memorial service online. You can use programs like Zoom to bring everyone together for a virtual service. You’ll still be able to come together and share memories, without any travel or event costs.

Turn to your community

Your community can be an untapped resource when it comes to times of grief; many friends and family will want to help, but won’t know where to start.

Unsure what to ask for? Here are some ways your community can help you save money (and feel less stressed) when planning a funeral:

  • Preparing and bringing food to a memorial service
  • Offering their home or a community venue to host memorial services
  • Donating to a funeral fundraiser or memorial fund (create one here:
  • Researching companies and prices for you
  • Reaching out to local community organizations, religious organizations, and labor unions to make contributions to your memorial website or help with the funeral planning in any way

Compare your options

While traditional funerals are expensive (and exceed the budget of many families), there are actionable ways to prevent yourself from overspending:

  • Understand the average price of funerals in your area.
  • Get detailed price lists from several funeral homes.
  • Compare the prices your funeral home gives you for products (like caskets and urns) with other physical and online stores.
  • Don’t feel pressured to use every service the funeral home offers. Pick and choose which ones are relevant and important to you and your family, and stick to your plan.

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Last updated February 15, 2022
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