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Don’t let emotions dictate funeral costs

By Connie Cone Sexton
Due to state restrictions, many people have been unable to spend those last precious moments with loved ones in hospitals and nursing homes or have been unable to hold "traditional" end-of-life ceremonies. LucaLorenzelli, Getty Images/iStockphoto

Emotions and sentimentality often dictate what we buy: The book of poetry you bought for your spouse. That first baseball glove for your child. Or that all-expense-paid trip to Hawaii for your parents on their golden anniversary.

We are happy to spend because we want to show our love. So, you think, I shouldn’t be faulted for wanting to not hold back my spending during one of the most emotional times of my life, the death of a loved one.

But as hard as it seems, try to keep cost in mind as you plan for a funeral, experts advise. Keeping costs down doesn’t mean you didn’t care. It’s in your best financial interest.

A National Funeral Directors Association report put the the median cost of a funeral at $7,640 in 2019. That price does not include cemetery costs, monuments or markers, flowers and other items -- which can easily push a funeral above $10,000.

The Federal Trade Commission's Funeral Rule sets out consumers' rights when planning a funeral - but those rules can't help people cope with the potential guilt from shopping for better funeral pricing.

But if you have the time and desire, it’s best to shop around, says Joshua Slocum, executive director of the Funeral Consumers Alliance, a non-profit that educates consumers about funeral options.

Too often, he says, shame and societal pressure prevents people from ensuring that they do not overpay for funeral expenses. Some are wary of appearing cheap; some simply can't imagine dispassionately discussing money at such an emotion time.  

“I even had a call from an actual rocket scientist from NASA who could not put their mind around” dealing with the funeral home, he says.

His advice:

Try not to feel rushed after someone dies. When someone dies at home, some people feel the need to call the mortuary, even if it’s 2 in the morning. “You don’t have to do that,’’ he says. “Wait four or five hours until you can call around and ask simple bellwether questions about costs.”

If the death happens at the hospital, ask if the body can stay in the morgue for a couple of days. (He notes, however, that may not be possible with the pandemic’s surge of deaths.)

Another tip: Sit down and write down what you can actually afford, Slocum says. “But people just can’t hear that. They say, ‘Well, the funeral home said it would be $5,000.’ " What they may not understand, Slocum says, is that  $5,000 could include items or services that you may not need or want.

He tries to remind them of their budget - and to separate it from your love for the departed: "It does not matter how much you loved your husband or your father or whoever. If you spent what your heart felt, you’d be bankrupt.”

Advice and Guidance