5 Unexpected Funeral Expenses You Should Prepare For

by Emily Guy Birken · 8 comments

Votive candles
One of the final scenes of my favorite movie The Big Lebowski features John Goodman’s and Jeff Bridges’ characters arguing with a funeral director over the cost of their friend Donny’s funeral. At one point, John Goodman (who plays a constantly angry character) shouts, “Look, just because we’re bereaved doesn’t make us SAPS!”

After having recently gone through a family funeral of my own, I find myself more sympathetic toward the character’s outrage. When it comes to funeral expenses, it can seem as though the prices for necessary services and products are out of proportion to any reasonable expectations. While funeral homes are required to give you an itemized list of prices for final expenses, it can still be very difficult to navigate the stress and financial worry of a funeral.

Here are some aspects of a funeral that cost more than you think:

1. Use of the plot

Purchasing a grave plot is not your only cemetery expense. While many people will make sure to plan ahead by purchasing a plot for themselves, they might not realize that their family will have to pay more in order to use that plot.

Opening the grave is another service which the family will have to pay for in order to hold the funeral, and the cost can be an additional $300-$500 — and potentially more if you’re holding the funeral on a weekend.

2. Obituaries 

Newspapers used to print obituaries gratis as a service to their readers and the local community. Unfortunately, newspapers can no longer afford to do this. In order to have anything more than a brief death notice (which is still free), family members will need to spend $400-$500 for a longer obituary containing pertinent information.

3. Vaults

Some cemeteries require you to use a vault within the grave. These vaults help prevent the grave from sinking as future deterioration sets in. The addition of a vault to the burial can add anywhere from $500 to $5,000 to the cost of the funeral. While no state law requires that cemeteries use a vault, you’re probably not going to be in any shape to protest against it.

4. Caskets

Caskets can be extremely expensive. You can find a plain pine box for as little as $500, but caskets can range up to $10,000 or more for mahogany or other beautiful materials.

Even if you’re willing to go for the plain and simple casket, you might field a sales pitch for a sealed casket, which will protect the interior of the casket from water and insects. However, these seals are generally just rubber gaskets — and it doesn’t make a great deal of sense to protect a dead body.

5. Flowers

Flowers through the funeral home are going to cost you. The base price of a funeral doesn’t include the cost of flowers, and adding them will cost you much more than normal flower arrangements would. Expect to spend between $250 and $1,000.

The Bottom Line

Burying a loved one is an upsetting and overwhelming experience, and it can be very difficult to make intelligent financial decisions in the midst of such turmoil. It’s a good idea to research funeral expenses before the time comes, and to always bring a friend or family member with you when meeting with the funeral parlor. That friend will be able to help you determine the best course of action.

Have you faced unexpected costs during a funeral? Anything you’d add to this list? 

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  • Do_Not_Reply says:

    The main thing that costs more than you think: Social pressure from the death industry.

    The body is not the person. Honor the person, and let the body return to nature. Dig a hole in the back yard and bury it with all your other pets. Pay nothing, and get on with your life. Use your resources where they can do some good.

  • Sandy says:

    As a clergy person, I make it a point of reminding my parishioners to make their plans, and make them known – keeping a written copy of details about the service as well as finances (some insurance plans include money for funeral expenses) in several places. Also, in this day and age, leave a list of passwords – you may want access to the deceased’s facebook page, for example.
    I also often go with the family to the funeral home, because I am a bit less emotionally involved, and can reassure the family that there’s nothing wrong with not having a gasket on the casket and avoiding other sales gimmicks. Having a service (and the meal after) at a church is usually less expensive than at the funeral home or a restaurant.
    It made me sad to read the comment above about the costs for feeding guests — what happened to the tradition of friends and neighbors bringing food? When my Dad died recently there was more food than we knew what to do with. But after the excitement in the first week after the death, it was such a relief to not have to think about cooking.

  • Fru-gal Lisa says:

    To simply have the body transported from the funeral home to the church was a big expense. So I just had them go from the funeral home to the cemetery and we had a memorial service (ie, a funeral minus the coffin) at the church. It saved big bucks, although I came under fire for it — certain very critical relatives complained the guests thought the deceased had been cremated instead of buried. I really don’t care what anyone thought! The newspaper obituary clearly stated that burial was in the local historic cemetery. Of course, to save more money, just opt for graveside services.
    Also, be sure to shop around, even though you don’t feel like it: there is a significant difference in prices charged by funeral homes. I chose a funeral home that is out on the highway instead of the “establishment” one that’s been in town for generations — and saved more than half.

  • Elizabeth Howerton says:

    One of the funeral expenses when my Mother passed last year, that was unexpected, was feeding out of town guests. My Moms service was a very small, but we still had people come in from out of town.

    And since my husband and I were local – most get togethers were at our house. So beverages, snacks, and meals were mostly at our home (day or two before the funeral and after).

  • Frankie's Girl says:

    I honestly don’t understand the lack of planning for death. The one thing that we are guaranteed in life is that we are going to die, so why not plan out what you’d like for that as well? Avoiding it means you’re leaving that burden on your family at a time when they are worst equipped to deal with it.

    Just my opinion: If you make it to your twenties and especially if you’re married, with or without kids – you should discuss what you’d like for your funeral with your spouse. If you don’t have a spouse, you still should discuss it at some point by your thirties with your family. If it is something that might cause issue with your extended family (for instance, you want to be cremated, but your mom and dad would have a fit at the idea) then you need to put that in writing so they can’t try to overrule your spouse and cause fights during the process.

    My dad passed away late 2012, and unfortunately didn’t make any plans for what he wanted. The thing is, he was terminally ill and knew this for over a year, so that meant he had plenty of time to discuss with my sister and me what he would like… but never did (and would get weird if we brought up anything). He did tell us he had a plot already next to his parents, so that’s one thing… if you do have anything already planned TELL YOUR RELATIVES so they can avoid buying a duplicate because they were unaware.

    I don’t blame funeral homes for capitalizing on the grief of people left in this situation – they are a for-profit business after all – but it would save so much time and MONEY for those left behind if the arrangements (not necessarily paying in advance, but I think that is an option) were made prior to death. Forcing family members to make the decisions after death means emotions and guilt/grief control a decision-making processes involving large amounts of money… a recipe for over-spending since most people think they need to get fancy this and that because that’s what the deceased “would have wanted” or not wanting to appear cheap for their funeral.

    Write out what you want – type of casket, flowers and music you’d like, who you’d like to speak, where you’d like to be buried and what type of stone and any other details you think your loved ones should know and maybe even a range of cost for the whole thing. If you have a general idea of how much it will cost, make sure you’ve got that much put aside for it or set up an account.

    I left most of the decisions up to my sister as I lived out of state and she was the one that was more distraught over what dad would have wanted. It ended up costing around $10K. That’s below average in the area, but they still take advantage since haggling or questioning prices is looked on as tacky. I still did it, and felt weird about asking the prices, but I wanted to know.

    I have already discussed with my husband what I want – just need to put it in writing, but it’s not as pressing an issue since we have no one that would contest what he does if I go first, and it’s pretty simple – donate if possible, cremate or whatever if not – with no funeral service or gravesite. He wants the same, so at least we are aware of each other’s wishes.

    Bottom line as far as I am concerned, the saying “funerals are for the living” is 100% correct. The deceased don’t care what flowers were used or the fancy details on a casket – they have no use for them and serve no purpose other than window dressing. How much you spend should not be an indicator for how much you loved them.

  • The average cost of a funeral is over $6,560 according to the National Funeral Directors Association. Add to that the cost of retirement and attendant health care, and you’ve got a situation that calls for smart financial planning as early as possible. What’s worse is that if you don’t plan for your funeral costs, it’s a burden you leave behind to your children or next-of-kin.

  • Not a fun topic to discuss, but good to know. At what age do you think it would be responsible to start arranging all of these items so your next of kin does not have to be burdened by setting this up after your death?

    • Fru-gal Lisa says:

      I think you should do it ASAP. Every adult needs to do this as soon as they leave their parents’ home and are out on their own. No one is guaranteed that he or she will live X number of years. What if you died in a traffic accident tomorrow?

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