Plan a Funeral at an Affordable Price/ June 20th, 2011
IntroductionWe laughed when we learned that Ray, notorious in the family for being frugal, was trying to sell three "bargain" funerals he'd purchased in advance. Ray, his wife, and his mother-in-law, who lived with them, were moving from San Diego to the hill country of Texas. The funerals were not transferable to another funeral home, and transporting the bodies back would wipe out the savings he thought he had locked in and then some. Ray was never able to resell the funerals and took a loss of several thousand dollars. Funeral resales and direct prepayment to a funeral home are not smart consumer practices. But what Ray intended to do—preplan—is wise.
Savvy consumers do the research"There is no question about it. The most important thing is to do all the homework and ask all the questions in advance," says Dan Foce, certified public accountant and business manager for Cress Funeral Homes in Madison, Wis. "Funeral directors are like wedding planners in terms of what they plan and coordinate. Wedding planners often have a year to help you make decisions. Funeral directors have two to three days." Funerals can be expensive. In the U.S., the average "traditional" adult funeral, not including cemetery expenses or outer burial container, cost $6,560 in 2009, the most recent year for which the National Funeral Directors Association, (NFDA), Brookfield, Wis., has figures online. A traditional funeral means embalming, a casket, a wake or visitation, a funeral ceremony, a procession, and graveside services. The NFDA says funerals cost $708 in 1960. Consumers have options to bring today's costs down to 1960 levels.
Basic services feeNo matter what you believe is necessary to be respectful—direct cremation, traditional funeral, or something in between—you have to pay the funeral provider's basic services fee. It covers the provider's overhead: the costs of making arrangements, consultations with survivors, administration, staff, facilities, equipment, permits, preparing death notices, and coordinating cemetery or crematory arrangements. The average basic services fee was $1,817 in 2009, according to the NFDA. At Cress Funeral Homes, this fee is $2,395 in 2011. But at its low-cost affiliate, Informed Choice, Milwaukee, the fee is $1,200. It's possible to find such affiliates in most midsize U.S. cities, according to Foce. There are providers across the country with minimum facilities and equipment catering to those who want low-cost funerals, according to McMillan, whose basic services fee is $1,995. Each funeral company figures its prices differently, says Saether. One may have a higher basic services fee but lower markups on goods such as caskets. Your purchase total may be less from a provider with a higher basic fee than from one with a lower basic fee. Saether's basic services fee is $3,755.
The Federal Trade Commission requires all funeral homes to provide detailed written price lists.