How to Plan a Funeral on A Budget

Planning a funeral can be both an emotional and financial challenge for families. It is for this reason that knowing the financial resources you have to pay for the event and then planning and sticking to a budget is vital.


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      Death can result in decreased income and benefits for families. Planning a funeral should not increase that burden and throw family into further debt. When planning a funeral looking at available financial resources is a must. While certain expenses are fairly standard if you wish to have a traditional funeral arrangements, there are ways to reduce costs.

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      Some people do leave behind funds designated to pay for funeral costs and have specific wishes they want honored. These should be respected where ever possible. Should you be left with the task of planning the funeral consult with family, friends, and any written instructions to try to honor the requests made.

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      Unfortunately, many of us come to funeral planning with limited resources and some sketchy specifics as to how to proceed forward with the project. One approach some might consider morbid is to consider funerals you attend as places to gather information about what you would or would not do when it is your turn to plan or to leave instructions for others to plan your funeral. Again while it may seem morbid if you have been to a funeral in your local area and thought the funeral arrangements were done well, this might be a place to research regarding expenses and references. If you went to one and were uncomfortable it might have been the fault of the family, but it is something to consider when starting the process of finding a funeral home. If possible, it is best not to wait until someone has died to find one. While you likely have not created a personal relationship with the home, knowing which ones to call to see if they are available and which ones to avoid is not a bad idea. We all face this issue eventually.

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      While burial costs are an important consideration, going with the cheapest funeral home is not always your best option. Cost is one of the options but you want someone who is reliable, will give you solid advice, who can be trusted to do what they say, and who does not give a low bottom 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.

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      This is a reason to talk to people in your area who have used the local funeral planning services. It is a delicate conversation to be had with someone months after they have had funeral expenses. However, many people are willing to discuss their consumer experience with a funeral home. Make sure you address your priorities. Your main issues may not be the same as the person you are interviewing. Do not assume that because they share the same financial situation as you, they stayed on a budget. Just as with weddings, people will spend themselves into debt for a funeral to put on a show for the neighbors. If you are looking for advice on budget busters, you will have to carefully word your questions. You do not wish to offend, but to get the answers you are seeking.

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      It is hard to be assertive when you are grieving. However, if staying on a budget is critical you need to gather those who are responsible for planning and paying for the budget and have those challenging discussions about finances and priorities. If you have the sole responsibility of paying for the funeral than it is your job to set the priorities and to utilize the advice and counsel of family, friends, and religious or other counsel available to help you in this time of need. Many people seek to be helpful, but not all people are able to understand. Remember that you do not honor the dead by mortgaging your future to pay for a funeral.

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      Once you have selected a funeral home, met with the funeral planner and received a list cost for the services and the options you have available you are ready to make some decisions. Depending on the wishes of the deceased, the family's desires, and your budgetary obligations one of your first choices will be the type of burial. Your options include cremation, traditional burial, and now some ever increasing alternate burial options. Your funeral director should be able to help you determine the costs as well as give you some perspective on the benefits and challenges of each.

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      If you have the time, do not make impulse decisions at that first meeting. Take the information, go home, read it, and crunch the numbers. There is so much information to consider as you read through your options. If you are certain about basic specifics going in, cremation, traditional burial, church service, funeral mass, than discuss those options. You may want additional information on specific pricing, need to find out what additional obligations are required, calls, or appointments you need to make to get things started. Try to avoid one stop shopping because this can lead you to bust your budget. You do need to crunch the numbers, prioritize your options, and decide what can be done with the money available. There is often incredible pressure to make the decisions right away, plead grief, make another appointment, and do your homework.

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      Priorities and options are really what drive your budget in planning a funeral. Often, what busts a budget most is giving into pressure that pushes your buttons of pride, grief, love, and being embarrassed in front of friends, family, and colleagues. Too often after the fact people can not even tell you where the money was spent on a funeral. They can show you the bill and it is all legitimate. They agreed to the charges and got everything they requested and agreed to pay for at the time the contract was signed. However, while some services truly help a grieving family get through the challenge and might be something to put on your priority list, many are costly and are do nothing to help the mourners through the grieving process. Often there are less expensive alternatives that perform the same task with less cost and equal outcome. This is why it is important to ask the important question why am I paying for this and will I think it was worth it after the fact?

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      People sometimes compare buying a casket to buying a car based on the pressure to buy the more expensive model. Whether you choose to research and buy a casket separate from the funeral home or you buy directly from them, your first priority should not be what the neighbors are going to say. The casket should be a purchase that allows the rest of the budget to happen. Once it is buried, you likely will not remember what it looks like and it is doubtful that the extra money you were pressured to spend is going to make you feel better about the death. If you are concerned about the public viewing, do check to see if a rental casket is available so you will not be embarrassed by the lower end casket your loved one is going to be using in the burial plot.

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      Limousines can become a hotly contested issue in families. Who will be assigned to one and who is deemed further down the list as to not rate inclusion can create even more tension than already exists at funerals. There can also be issues for people who need to leave early, want to stay longer, or find themselves without car, when the limo leaves without them. Our director actually suggested we not use them do to the time factor involved between the funeral home, the Church, and the cemetery. We would be well over the mandatory minimum rate and the costs increased greatly from there. This is one of the reasons to get a quality funeral home. He could have tried to influence us to buy the product. Instead he chose to help us stick to our budget.

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      Consider what you can do within the family and what you need to pay to have done if money is a financial concern. Funeral programs can be easily done on a computer, although some places do offer to do them for a fee. Many funeral homes offer to order thank you notes to be sent for flowers and gifts sent to the home or to the family. Many families choose to send out simple generic thank you notes with personal notes at a much less expensive rate. This is why it is important to go through each item to determine what are priorities and what you are willing to skip or do in an alternative manner. Keeping funeral costs down is a matter of being assertive, knowing your budget, and willing to not care what others think of your choices. In a year, few will remember if you sent out the monogrammed thank you notes you special ordered, or the Hallmark ones you bought at the store. However, your bank account will definitely still remember. Ask yourself honestly, if you think spending more will make the grieving process easier or honor your loved one more. If you have the financial resources, consider how you can spend them to truly honor your loved one when you have had time to think about a fitting memorial.

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      Church service or funeral home service is a question many struggle with when asking about budgets. If this is something that will provide comfort for you and others who are grieving, make it a financial priority. Many churches do have fees associated with a funeral mass or church funeral. There are often additional charges for the musicians, alter servers, and other related fees. If nobody in your family has been to Church in a long time and the person you are burying has made no request for a Church service, you may want to consider having the burial service at the funeral home. This does not mean you can not have a minister or priest present. I have been to services of different denominations at funeral homes. This is one way to reduce the costs involved with using the Church facility and the additional fees associated with the funeral home coordinating with the Church. The funeral home does have charges for hosting the burial but in general when you price the two you come out ahead if you choose to stay in one location.

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      When planning your budget, only count on money you have, not on money that is promised to you by others. Too many family arguments erupt over paying for funerals. Do not pressure others into paying for something only to be disappointed when they promise you something and do not deliver. When people are upset and grieving they often make rash promises. If you have a relative that has never paid for anything, do not expect that death is going to be the time they suddenly come forward with cash to do their part. Do not divide expenses and give people a bill to pay "their share." This is also going to lead you to disappointment and despair. While some members may pay, others will walk away, leaving you with debts you do not have the funds to cover. Before you spend any money, make sure you actually have the money to spend. IOU's are not a good way to budget for expenses you can not afford to pay for, yourself. If people want to pay directly for a service instead of giving you the cash, do not be personally offended, just follow up to insure the bill was actually paid and be prepared to cover it should they fail to do as promised. This should not be about control, but about keeping to a budget.

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      If people want to add options, to the service, grave site, or in any other way, let them pay for it. If you can only afford a small grave marker and someone wants to remember Mom in a more traditional manner that is fine, but let them order it and have it placed. Keep your money in waiting should they fail to deliver on the promised headstone. That way you allow others to participate, relinquish control, and still have a backup plan should the other person prove to be unreliable. You carry no liability.

Tips & Warnings

  • No matter how great the pressure, do spend more than you have on a funeral.
  • Think about what you will remember in a year about the day and focus on those things.
  • Do not spend money expecting others will reimburse you regardless of promises. Spend what you have not what you are promised.
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