As a pastor who has officiated dozens of funeral services, I know how expensive and overwhelming funerals can be.
Funerals don’t have to break the bank, or overwhelm those you leave behind, if you do a little thinking and planning right now.
The average cost of a funeral in America today is $8,000 to $10,000. Costs can easily escalate beyond that because there are so many options and possible add-ons.
Here’s my take on why funerals are so expensive and overwhelming, and some suggestions on how you can put the “fun” back in funeral planning, or at least make funerals more affordable and less taxing.
Why are Funerals so Expensive and Overwhelming?
From my perspective, funerals can be expensive and overwhelming for three basic reasons:
- It’s a rush job. Funerals are most often planned on short notice – right after the deceased has died – and all the arrangements typically need to be made within 24 hours so family and friends (especially those from out of town) can make plans to attend the funeral service. Plus, there are so many options.
- Emotions run high. When a loved one dies, it is an emotionally trying time for everyone involved. First, you are dealing with your own emotions about the loss of your loved one, including memories you hold from the past and guilt that you may feel for things done or not done or said in the past. Then add on top of that any tension or stress that already exists between siblings or other family members, which often becomes magnified during the funeral planning process. Some of you know what I’m talking about.
- Guilt or obligation. Survivors often feel obligated to give their deceased loved one a “good” (read “expensive”) funeral. Sometimes this is out of guilt. Other times it is simply because they have no idea what the deceased wanted for their funeral service. Or because they want the funeral arrangements for their mom to at least be as nice, if not nicer, as Aunt Millie’s was last year.
Financial experts agree that you should never make important financial decisions under the following circumstances:
- When you are being rushed
- When you feel emotionally attached
- When you feel a sense of guilt, obligation, or entitlement
And yet that’s exactly where we are when it comes to most funeral planning that happens after a person dies!
The best thing to do, when faced with important financial decisions, is give yourself time to do research, play with different options, sleep on it a few nights, or wait a week or a month before making your move.
Unfortunately, most families don’t have the luxury of waiting or “sleeping on” funeral planning decisions. So they make rushed decisions that are often uninformed and expensive.
How to Make Your Funeral Less Expensive & Taxing
You do have the power to put the “fun” back in your funeral for your loved ones! You can take all the pressure, stress, and a lot of the expense out of your funeral arrangements by doing three things:
1. Plan ahead. If you really love your family, make the effort to plan your funeral. You don’t have to think through every detail, but if you do, everyone will rise up and call you “Blessed!” But just writing down the basics like where you want to be buried (or whether you want to be cremated), what songs you want to have sung, who you’d like to speak, who you’d like to play the organ or sing a solo, who you’d like to serve as pall bearers, etc., will lift a huge burden off your family. Pre-planning your funeral is truly a generous gift to those you leave behind.
2. Save now or even pay now. You can save significant costs by paying for many funeral elements in advance. The most typical thing people do in advance is buy their burial plots. But you can also make pre-arrangements with a funeral home and even save money by paying for your service in advance. Like anything, prices do vary, so take the time to make calls to see which funeral home offers the best prices for what you’re looking for, what cemeteries have the best prices on funeral plots (and don’t forget about the prices for opening the grave and for the exterior burial vault which the casket sits in). At minimum, if you don’t choose to pay for these things now, at least be sure you have money set aside in savings to pay for them, or have enough insurance to cover these costs.
3. Talk about it. Don’t be afraid to talk to your family about your funeral plans. Better yet, involve them in the planning process! Also, be sure to give copies of your wishes (and information about any pre-planning or pre-payments you’ve done) to those who would likely be handling your arrangements.
Dealing with our own mortality is one thing that some people really have a difficult time thinking about, talking about, and planning for. Yet if you follow Christ, your death can truly be a celebration, and planning for it can even be fun, if you let it.
You had nothing to do with how you entered this world, and there’s no way to know when you’ll leave it. But there’s a lot you can do to plan for when that day comes, and for how your family and friends will celebrate your life and legacy. Planning your funeral will give them one more reason to celebrate.
My wife and I have begun to talk about what we want our funerals to be like. We’ve decided to make them as simple and cheap as possible. What about you? Have you started to plan for your funeral?