If you don’t face your own mortality, your loved ones will face a different truth: Overspending.
Modern American culture has a taboo against discussing death. After all, who likes planning out their burial plot when they’re young or healthy? But this way of thinking hurts us financially. People tend to leave the funeral planning to their loved ones, making them guess what the deceased wants and limiting the ability to shop around.
No one wants to make a quick decision on a costly item when the emotional stakes are high.
The national median cost of a funeral with viewing and burial for 2014 — the latest year this data is available — was $7,181, according to the National Funeral Directors Association. But just because that’s the median cost doesn’t mean you need to spend it.
Joshua Slocum, executive director of death industry watchdog Funeral Consumers Alliance (FCA), gave us tips to follow as you plan your funeral in advance, when you don’t believe death is near.
1. Follow a budget
There are a lot of details that people often consider for a funeral: cremation or burial, type of casket, and myriad other choices. But the first step is establishing a budget.
“People do this when they buy a car. They do it when they buy a house. But they completely forget it or think they’re not supposed to when it comes to a funeral,” Slocum says. “When you’re planning, understand and articulate with your family clearly what a comfortable budget is that does not require you to take on debt. How much money do you have – not how much you think it has to cost.”
2. Shop around
Once you’ve chosen a service, compare prices in your area. If there’s a local FCA group, check there first for local price surveys. Large price discrepancies, sometimes up to thousands of dollars, exist between different funeral homes in the same city. That information can help you narrow down which funeral homes to consider for a more detailed quote.
When you visit funeral homes, ask for their price lists on paper (which they’re required by federal law to provide) so you can look at their prices at home, outside of a sales context. And ask funeral homes specific questions if you don’t understand something.
If you need help during the planning process, contact the FCA.
3. Talk with your loved ones
Have a conversation about the funeral arrangements with your family or the circle of people closest to you.
“Don’t merely tell your survivors what you want,” Slocum says. “That’s nice, but it’s awfully selfish if you don’t go further and add on to that, ‘Hey, guys, you’re going to be here when I’m gone. What do you think will work for you? What would make you feel better and what would you find meaningful?’ Make it a dialogue, not a dictation session.”
After you have that talk, write down the decisions and the prices you found in your area. Make physical copies of these and hand them to your family. If you have it in an email, safe deposit box, or password-protected file, people will overlook these at the time of death.
4. Don’t forget that a casket is just a box
People are accustomed to spending $2,000 or more on a casket, but that number should make them pause. “It is simply a box, and they’re vastly marked up over their wholesale price,” Slocum says.
If you find a casket on your own, funeral homes must legally accept it without charging a fee. (The same goes for urns.) Choose a casket using two criteria: Is it affordable for you, and does it appeal to your eye?
“Remember that caskets do only one thing, and every casket does it just as well as another: It simply holds the body,” Slocum says.
5. Never prepay
There are a few reasons to never prepay for a funeral. You could move cities. You may want to choose a different funeral home later because your choices have changed.
“Do you really believe that you will want exactly the same thing at 78 as 40-year-old you would?” Slocum says. “Most of us, by the time we’ve gotten to middle age, realize how much things can change.”
6. Keep returning to your decision
Funeral shopping is not a one-stop process. If you’re 40 years old and you’re planning for a funeral ahead of time, you need to revisit the decision every few years or if you move. Rechecking costs can also save you money. Sometimes, prices lower over time because conditions have changed.
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