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My Grandmothers and the Cost of a Funeral

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Ninety-three years is a long time to live. My paternal grandmother was that age when she passed away this past Saturday. I attended her funeral, a graveside service, earlier this week. She lived in Florida, but she was flown up to Long Island to be buried with her husband, who died in 1968.

A couple of weeks ago, my maternal grandmother entered hospice care, with the doctors offering a prognosis of days or weeks, maybe months, due to Parkinson’s disease and, I believe, complications after hip surgery. She lives in California and is in her mid-eighties, and since receiving the news I’ve been mentally and logistically planning to travel out to the west coast at any time with one day’s notice.

I was then surprised when I heard from my father this past weekend that his mother had also entered hospice care. While my mother’s mother continues to have bad days and somewhat better days but is surviving, my father’s mother passed away after one day. My family in Florida held a ceremony for her on Monday, and more family in New York was on hand on Tuesday for the burial. This quick pace is not uncommon; Jewish funerals typically occur quickly, without a wake or viewing.

Occasions like these often bring together distant relatives who have been out of contact, and this Tuesday was no different. It was great to see relatives and friends of the family I had not seen in decades and meet other friends and relatives.

I wasn’t involved in the financial aspects of this event, but it was apparent that a funeral can be a very expensive event. Despite the morbidity of the though, a funeral should be financially planned. In our case, the plot was purchased a long time ago, when prices were surely much lower than they are now. In my grandmother’s case, I would imagine the transportation from Florida to New York was the most expensive part of the day.

How much does a funeral cost?

The National Funeral Directors Association conducts a survey every year or so to gather information about the cost of funerals across the country. As you would imagine, the costs increase every year. The 2006 survey produced these averages for itemized funeral services:

Item Price
Non-declinable basic services fee $1,595
Removal/transfer of remains to funeral home $233
Embalming $550
Other preparation of the body $203
Use of facilities/staff for viewing $406
Use of facilities/staff for funeral ceremony $463
Use of a hearse $251
Use of a service car/van $120
Basic memorial printed package $119
Subtotal without Casket: $3,940
Metal Casket $2,255
Subtotal with Casket: $6,195
Vault $1,128
Total Cost $7,323

The cemetery where my grandmother is now buried also has a yearly fee for keeping the plot tidy but has an alternative option for “perpetual care.” Perpetual care is a one-time fee, currently $2,000 at this particular cemetery, that covers trimming the hedges and other landscaping.

The Federal Trade Commission requires funeral directors to provide itemized prices for all services related to the funeral, so make sure you ask as many questions as possible.

Planning for a funeral

In 1968, when my paternal grandfather died, the average total funeral cost was $708; in 2006, the average total cost was $6,195.

One of the best ways you can help those you leave behind afford this expense, if you can manage to help, is to set aside money to care for the events surrounding your own death. In the real world, there are many things that can get in the way of this planning such as the cost of health care. Even though there are often financial obstacles as you age, any consideration will help your family.

The first thing you could do, if and when you have settled down to live in a certain area, is purchase a plot in a cemetery that fits your family’s tradition or religion. Buying the plot in advance will save money down the road as the cost of plots and practically everything else associated with a funeral increases at a rate higher than inflation.

If it is not offensive to you, or your religion, cremation is a less expensive option. Consider cremation if this is aligned with your personal values.

Don’t forget to comparison shop. If you want until it’s too late, there may be pressure to make decisions quickly. This increases the chances of spending money unnecessarily.

For those looking to cut costs on a funeral, Christopher Solomon has suggestions for planning a funeral for $800 or less.

Coming to terms with mortality

I never said William Shatner is a great singer. His first album, The Transformed Man, established his status in music history as not a great singer. But paired with Ben Folds for the more recent Has Been, he came up with the poignant “You’ll Have Time,” which reminds us all that we are going to die at some point. “Live life like you’re gonna die, because you’re going to…”

There’s never been a better reason to stop procrastinating.

Published or updated August 13, 2009. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes, also known as Flexo, is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about him and follow Luke Landes on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar 2million

Funeral expenses can be shocking – headstone; expenses for whatever gathering you have after the funeral; and as mentioned the plot itself are additional costs. I don’t think the time of grieving for a loved one is the right time to be making financial decisions for funeral arrangements. Emotions and finances sometims don’t mix well.

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avatar Bible Money Matters

Sorry to hear about your grandmother. I’ve lost 3 grandparents in recent years, and it’s always hard to say goodbye. Luckily my relatives had planned for the day, and most things were taken care of when the day came.

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avatar Paul @ FiscalGeek

Sorry for your loss Flexo. My mother-in-law pre-purchased her funeral expenses through a shame like insurance plan. Over the course of her life she paid more than $4,000 that she didn’t have into that plan. She died young at the age of 51 and her total funeral costs were only $3000 because she had chosen cremation. So if she had paid until much later in life think of the cost. It sickens me to prey on people because “you wouldn’t want to burden your family”. Once I’m too old for my term life then I’ll fully fund my funeral expenses in a money market account. Again sorry for your loss, but very useful information.

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avatar mbhunter

Thanks for sharing this post. Sorry for your family’s loss.

+1 for buying land now. As they say, they’re not making any more of it.

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avatar Greg

re: Paul @ FiscalGeek: You are right, an account (or term policy) is the financially prudent thing to do. Based on my experience working in the funeral industry, most people do not have plans in place for funeral expenses; especially for passing away at a young age.

The single best advice I can give is to pre-plan (not necessarily pre-pay) your funeral service. The funeral home of your choice will be glad to sit down and work this out with you. This way the planning will be done without the emotional duress that comes with losing a loved one. Also, it prevents the survivors from fighting over “what Mother wanted.” Make sure the anticipated survivors (spouse, children) are aware of your desires.

Keep in mind that prices quoted and specific offering (e.g. casket models) may not be available at the time of need. Revisit the plan as often as you revisit your will.

A final note; service is important. Take time to find a funeral service provider that has a good reputation.

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avatar No Debt Plan

Sorry for your loss. Death is not an easy subject to endure, much less write about publicily.

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avatar SavingEverything

Besides funeral expenses, how much money should one expect to pay nowadays (late 2009) for the burial site and the memorial stone? Are there any other fees to pay, such as ground keepings, or is it included in the one lump-sum burial plot cost? In NY? In FL? In NJ? In AZ?

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avatar Greg

re SavingEverything: The funeral business is primary regulated by the states, so it is difficult to do a comparison across state lines.

Generally, there is the cost of the grave site, opening and closing (dig a hole and fill it in) costs, marker, and setting the marker (putting the marker in place). Usually a perpetual care cemetery has the care and maintenance built into the cost of the grave site.

Another consideration is a mausoleum. They are generally less expensive than a grave and do not have the same opening and closing costs. The marker is less expensive, usually engraving on a granite surface or a metal plaque. There are also mausoleum niches, where cremated remains can be place.

This is why it is so important to do your homework now, while time is on your side.

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avatar ctreit

Sorry to hear about your grandmother! I lost my “adopted” grandmother a few years ago, who was very good to me. She lived to 93 and was ready to join her husband who had died a few decades ago. It was such a privilege for me to have known her. I hope that your grandmother also looks back at a fulfilled life. All the best to you and the others left behind.

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avatar Cathy @ Chief Family Officer

I’m so sorry for your loss, Flexo. My grandmother isn’t quite at hospice level yet, but she lives quite far away and her health has been declining steadily for several years. It’s always in the back of my mind, how I would make those last minute travel arrangements if that call comes. My thoughts & prayers are with you and your family.

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avatar Bea K.

I’m also sorry to hear about your grandmother (Is it alright if I pray for you and your family any way?), but unfortunately in the black community very rarely are these ‘matters’ discussed (my mom is 79 and still refuses to talk about it, but I’m determined to set the wheels in motion right now). I’m 50 and starting my will and funeral arrangements ‘this week’ to get things in order, should ‘something’ drastic come about (or even if it doesn’t). Most of my generation (and my mom’s as well) would rather ‘put it off’ or act like it’s not going to happen (or think about it ‘later’, who says we’ll make it to 11:59?), but we all need a reality check when it comes to death (I’ve gotten to the point where I almost welcome it at certain times, and grow less and less afraid as the years advance. I look forward to being with God/Yeshua and seeing my loved ones who’ve gone on before me.).
This may sound stupid or even trite but I don’t know why we don’t start having a ‘serious’ talk about preparing for ‘death’ at an earlier time period, and perhaps people wouldn’t be so apprehensive about it (and would maybe even be willing to get things in order sooner). In the mean while, “thanks” for yet another wake-up call to “put my house in order”, while there is still yet time. Shalom! and God bless.

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,475 (Platinum)

Thanks for your comments, everyone.

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avatar frugalscholar

My in-laws sent us a notice many years ago telling us they had prepaid for a cremation etc with a burial society–in their case, the Neptune Society. What a gift to their family. When my mil died at home several years ago, a call to the Society was all it took. This was also a low-cost option.

Because my great-grandfather bought into a butial place with many recent immigrants, i am entitled to a low-cost (or no-cost?) plot at the Montefiore Cemetery.

Jewish tradition also calls for simplicity at burials–a wonderful gift for all the survivors.

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avatar Rick Rexor

Doing the funeral arrangements for my father was probably one of the hardest things I have ever had to get done. My father left with very little money and did not take the proper precautions before he pasted. As my wife and I started shopping around for funeral homes, I was shocked to find just how expensive that day would be. Luckily, I my brother heard about http://www.starlegacynetwork.com where I could get cheap caskets of similar quality, but not as overpriced as some of funeral home were charging. As hard as this day was, giving my dad the funeral he deserved was one of the proudest moments of my life.

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