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Planning a funeral on a budget

August 3, 2011
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It's undoubtedly a morbid topic, yet planning a funeral is one of the steepest but necessary expenses we'll face in our lifetimes. Whether it's for a spouse, parent or, in those rarer instances, a child, it is both an emotional time and financial challenge for families that can often lead to decision making based on emotions rather an economic acuity.

If there's any consolation, it doesn't matter how much is spent - a dollar figure can never equate to how much you loved someone.

Still, a funeral should be treated like any other consumer purchase in its barest essence - by comparing costs and services. Charges at different funeral homes in the same area can vary by thousands of dollars, so it pays to shop around.

To help consumers, the Federal Trade Commission enacted a law called The Funeral Rule to prohibit funeral professionals from taking advantage of their clients through inflated prices, overcharges, double charges or unnecessary services. This rule makes it easier for consumers to choose only the merchandise or services you want, and it also ensures that you are only paying for the merchandise and services you selected, whether your funeral planning arrangements are on a pre-paid or at-need basis.

The Funeral Rule also requires funeral directors to give you other information about their goods and services. The company must give you a written price list that shows the goods and services they offer. If you want to buy a casket or other burial container, the funeral provider must show you descriptions of the available selections and the prices before actually showing you the caskets.

The rule also prohibited funeral directors from forcing consumers to buy a casket from them, often at exaggerated prices. Funeral homes must accept a casket or urn purchased elsewhere. In fact, you can actually buy a casket or urn at walmart.com.

If time allows, plan ahead and shop around. Planning for what is the inevitable will allow for family discussion and can help alleviate some of the emotional and financial burdens. When shopping for a funeral, keep these tips in mind:

Consumer rights

As stated above, know your rights. Funeral homes must provide you with all prices. You can plan a funeral al a carte or buy a package, which can sometimes cost less than piecemeal approaches. When comparing one funeral home to another, make sure the packages include the same set of services.

Avoiding emotional spending

Emotions at the time of a death can often drive family members to overspend. Some consumer experts say this industry is dependant on that kind of vulnerability. Keeping on a budget is key, as many times the loss of a love one can also mean the loss of income and you don't want to go further into debt.

According to the 2010 National Funeral Directors Association General Price List, the average cost of a full-service funeral is $6,500, largely due to the many services that families lock into but are not really needed, such as embalming (the average cost nationally is $400-$1200 depending on how much work is required) or a public viewing ($400).

Reliable funeral home

While burial costs are an important consideration, going with the cheapest funeral home is not always your best option. While cost is a factor, you want someone who is reliable, will give you solid advice, can be trusted to do what they say, and does not give a low price expecting to make up the difference in options they sell you. You want someone who is in the business to make a fair profit.

Funeral home not required

Surprisingly, it's perfectly legal in most states to plan and conduct a funeral in your own home, with the exception of Louisiana, Nebraska, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Indiana, Michigan and Connecticut, which require you to hire a funeral director.

Experts say the option can make the grieving process more natural and save you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.

Cremation

This method is becoming increasingly popular in the U.S. According to the Cremation Association of North America, the number of cremations constituted 36 percent of all deaths in 2008; by 2025 that figure is projected to reach almost 60 percent.

Since cremation can cost up to a third less than the average funeral, this trend is bad news for funeral directors. However, if want to offer your family and friends a viewing before cremating their remains, you do not always have to buy a casket - ask your funeral director about renting one. If they do not offer a rental, they must offer an unfinished wood box or an alternative container.

Church versus the funeral home

If your loved one hasn't been to a church in years, you can cut your costs by holding your service at the funeral home. You can still have a priest or a minister present.

Last modified on Monday, 19 December 2011 16:48

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