Why Are Funerals So Expensive? Budget Tips To Cut Costs

In 2010, a study was conducted on the average cost of funeral arrangements in the United States. It found that rising prices were overshooting the ability of Americans, particularly those engaged with the welfare system, to pay. The takeaway was that finding non-traditional means of conducting funerals was necessary.

Funerals are so expensive due to a breakdown of different funeral and body preparation aspects, which includes a basic service fee of approximately $2,000. The fee covers space rental, handling the death certificate, and overhead for the funeral home. 

Read on to learn why funerals have risen to such heights in recent years and ways that you can cut them down to a more manageable amount. 

How Much Do Funerals Cost?

Funerals cost between $7,000 and $12,000, depending on the services you request, and have risen by 230% from 1986 to 2017. An increasing number of Americans are for ways to reduce costs in any way possible. 

When you’re charged thousands just to have a funeral, before any actual work is done, you can see where the problem lies. Mom and Pop shops that would provide funeral services at a competitive price no longer exist in the number they used to. 

Closeup shot of a colorful casket in a hearse or chapel before funeral or burial at cemetery

Large corporations have bought out most small businesses in the US while keeping their name, charging premiums along the way. 

These companies can set standard pricing models for funerary services throughout the nation. Policies on upselling further increase costs, as workers are encouraged to present costlier options to grieving families who might be more vulnerable to suggestions. It isn’t unusual that someone heartbroken over the death of a loved one would be susceptible to upselling. 

What kind of items are they being upsold on? Some examples include: 

  • Embalming
  • Caskets
  • Staff
  • Interment


Embalming has a single purpose, and that is to prevent the decomposition of a body. But why do we need to preserve a corpse that’ll be lowered into the ground? 

The reason given is usually as a requirement for public viewing or open-casket funeral. 

However, not only will refrigeration keep a corpse fresh long enough for a funeral, some argue that embalming chemicals are dangerous for the environment. The WHO officially released guidance that states that human bodies in their natural decomposing state offer little to no risk to public health. 

The truth is that embalming is optional, and there’s little benefit from a public health perspective. Some independent funeral homes use refrigeration to maintain the deceased and still allow for an open casket without embalming. 

To put it in financial terms, this is an extra step that costs an average of $750 that might not be necessary, as there’s no law requiring embalming. 


Burial coffins are the most expensive singular purchase you’ll make as part of death arrangements, and it may be one of the most expensive items you ever purchase, period. The average cost of a casket is $2,500 for a very basket metal model. 

Most start at $5,000 for wooden and metal varieties, and they can go for as much as $10,000 for premium models. I’ve written an article that answers the question: Why are caskets so expensive? I recommend reading it to learn more about what factors influence casket prices.

There’s also a lesser-known expense called a vault. It’s an outer receptacle that contains the casket and seals it off, which is required for burial and is an additional cost that increases the overall price by about $1,500. 

This is for an item that’ll be lowered into the ground with a body that’ll decompose over time. Burial is a valid option, but more expensive caskets aren’t inherently better than cheaper ones. Added features like high-quality lumber or silk linings will offer no benefit to the departed and put increased economic burdens on the living. 

Cremation is often chosen not because of a lack of desire to be buried but to avoid buying a coffin. Urns are significantly cheaper, costing between $75 and $500 depending on the material and intricacy of design. 

It also doesn’t require buying a burial plot, as the ashes of the deceased can be spread anywhere, or used in potting soil to plant trees or flowers.


The cost of burial isn’t covered in the price or the basic service fees. 

Instead, you’ll pay for attendants who’ll be present during the ceremony and for those who’ll lower the casket at the end of the service. Viewing and funeral are both treated as separate events, so you hire staff to cover them for different fees. 

Staff hired for viewing will be approximately $450, with funeral staff costing $500. Some families choose not to do a viewing, either because they don’t want an open casket or the body’s condition doesn’t allow for it. 


When you choose burial, you commit to remaining in one spot until your body has completely decomposed. This is a big decision, and many families buy plots together to allow them to be buried under a single name. 

Others might have a family mausoleum with the remains of many generations. 

If you don’t have a plot already selected for you, one will need to be purchased. The cemetery is often owned by the funeral home, which maintains the gravesite. Urns are placed in a Columbarium, which is a public space made to protect cremated remains in a small cubby covered with a sealed door and engraved plaque. 

Casket burial plots range between $550 to $5000. A spot in a Columbarium varies from $850 to $2200. 

Tips for Reducing Funeral Costs

Now that we have seen a breakdown of standard costs, we can start looking at ways to reduce the final bill. Luckily, there are many simple ways to do so. 

  • Establish a will.
  • Opt for direct cremation.
  • Request no embalming.
  • Look at different local homes. 
  • Go for lower-end models.
  • Hold a private funeral outside of a funeral home. 
  • Keep it simple.

Establish a Will

A will has many purposes, as it can establish what you wish to have done with your body after death, including funeral arrangements. The function of the executor of your estate is to make sure those wishes are upheld to the best of your survivor’s ability. 

Any potential disputes about how your body is treated are avoided with a clause in your will. 

A will can specify not wanting an elaborate or expensive service. It can also direct people to use the arrangements you’ve already made and paid for if chosen. You can even specify that you don’t want a service at all or would prefer a celebration of life ceremony.

Opt for Direct Cremation

The least expensive way to send off a loved one is with a direct cremation. This is using the services of a crematory for a simple cremation with no frills. The remains are taken, burned, and you’re given the ashes in a sealed box. 

What you choose to do from there is entirely within your control. 

Choosing a direct cremation saves thousands of dollars, even if you have a funeral service. The savings from having no casket alone removes one of the most costly parts of a burial. You can also store the ashes at home in an urn, which removes the need for a Columbarium. 

Request No Embalming

Embalming isn’t required by law, and there’s nothing wrong with burying a body without it. The only rule for most states is that viewing has to be done in a specific timeframe, which varies from state to state. 

You can find details at your local medical examiner’s office.

Some funeral homes require it for any viewing or even a sealed casket burial. Calling ahead should give you a shortlist of establishments where it’s optional. 

Look at Different Local Homes 

Funeral homes offer services based on packages, establishing a floor of costs to build from. Calling around or touring homes is smart, and asking upfront about cost will help you narrow down the best one for your budget. You’re never locked into a home until a contract is signed and consultations are routine. 

Make sure to ask about their lower-cost options and any options that better fit your financial situation.

Go for a Lower End Model

Most funeral homes try to upsell to their customers. They’ll show you different packages and how you can get something fancier or sell it as a premium accessory. 

Remember that these are salespeople, and they’re there to make a profit, like any business. 

Don’t be afraid to refuse and choose lower-end models, such as caskets and headstones. Your loved one’s no less respected or missed if you decide to spend $1000 on a coffin rather than $10,000. 

You’re burying them to have a spot to visit when you miss them, so never feel guilty about your selections. 

Hold a Private Funeral 

Once upon a time, having a funeral service in the home was commonplace, even with a viewing. For a time, those became less popular, with more families choosing funeral homes as a venue to say goodbye. 

In recent years, however, these home funerals have regained their prevalence. 

Any venue is acceptable if it offers you, your friends, and your family a way to find closure after the death of a loved one. Your home, churches you or the deceased attended, and rented spaces are alternatives to a traditional funeral location. With the basic service fee starting at $2,000, choosing a different locale can significantly impact the final cost. 

Keep It Simple

The easiest way to fit a funeral into a more conservative budget is by being more conservative with the event, as large, elaborate ceremonies will inevitably cost more. By limiting the number of attendees, choosing a smaller venue, and simplifying the event, you reduce the necessary funding. 

You’re also taking away a lot of the stress. 

While you have to secure transportation for the body, it’s legal to have the deceased in their home or the home of a relative. Likewise, it’s perfectly legal to have the body in a church or anywhere that doesn’t have specific rules prohibiting it. 

This makes it easy to have an event in an intimate location and avoids most fees. 

The Benefit of a Home Ceremony

What’s the least expensive way to have a funeral, with all this in mind? Have a home ceremony where loved ones bring a dish to share after the service. Opt for direct cremation and choose your own urn online. 

Have the body transported directly to the crematorium rather than have a viewing. 

There’s no right or wrong way to have a funeral. But a variation of the above could save you or your survivors thousands of dollars. 

Create a Plan Ahead Of Time

The single most important thing you can do is to plan for the end of your life before it becomes necessary. 

Not only is this a huge relief for your family, but they’ll be able to ensure your wishes are followed as you present them. There’ll be no question on whether you’d have wanted the funeral as it is because you would’ve planned and paid for it yourself. 

Even if you don’t intend to make any purchases, sitting down with your family and discussing your wishes is critical. Once you have shared your wants, you can write a will that makes it official. 

A will can contain information, such as: 

  • What to do with your assets.
  • Where children will live if something happens to you.
  • The relocation of pets.
  • Your donor status.
  • Don’t resuscitate orders.
  • Whether you want to be kept on life support.
  • How you prefer your funeral be conducted.
  • Any end-of-life wishes that are not otherwise specified.

This removes the ambiguity and financial hardship on your loved ones. It also gives you the final say over how you are laid to rest, an essential element of closure.


There’ll always be some costs involved after death. But there are ways to break from the traditional funeral industry and keep costs down while still providing a proper and respectful send-off for your loved one. It just takes a bit of planning, as the sooner you start, the better.


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Alex Noel

Hi there! I'm Alex Noel and live in Indianapolis, Indiana. I started this website to share my experience. My goal is to provide Americans a more fulfilling goodbye.

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