How to Save $100s to $1,000s on Burials & Cremations



by John M. Reigle



·      Comparison shop for caskets, vaults, services of funeral directors, grave markers, and cemeteries. Start by using the yellow pages in your phone book and look under the necessary titles. Call the businesses listed and keep track of the quoted prices on the forms provided in this book. If you have access to the Internet, look under the search term of “caskets.” Be careful to compare prices and merchandise carefully, and always consider the cost of shipping, time required to deliver, and the reputation of the business.

·      Inexpensive caskets can be dressed up using flowers or a flag if the person was a veteran, or a pall if the person is Roman Catholic.

·       Though rental caskets are available to all funeral homes, not all carry them. The outside “shell” is made of wood or metal; the inside container is either buried or cremated. These also amount to a considerable saving of natural resources.

·      Some people choose to build their own casket. Plans are available through or 1-800-279-4441. Allow plenty of time if you are considering this option.

·      Inexpensive metal caskets come in a variety of colors and designs. 20 gauge steel caskets come in virtually every color imaginable, but you will be shown a very limited number. Sellers show the most casket choices in the price range they want to sell. Request what you want. Remember, most sellers mark up their merchandise two to three times their cost. 155

·      Inexpensive wood caskets also come in a variety of choices. Batesville Casket Company makes a line of “cremation” caskets that are inexpensive, but these are usually shown only to “cremation clients” to entice them into something with more profit than just cremation.

·       Wood caskets made of veneer are available, but these are not often shown to consumers so as to not take away from more lucrative sales of lavish wood caskets.

·       Caskets made of pine and poplar are sometimes dressed up and marked up when a family is really looking for a plain wood casket

·       Plain wood caskets are available; ask for them. If the funeral home doesn’t cooperate, leave.

·      If you are looking for an inexpensive casket, and the funeral director sells Batesville Caskets, ask to see the manufacturer’s catalog of Batesville cremation caskets. The least expensive caskets are rarely shown to burial customers, but are shown to cremation customers who traditionally don’t spend much.


·      Basic concrete boxes satisfy all requirements at cemeteries, but frequently are not offered by these cemeteries or funeral homes unless requested. Their prices are sometimes elevated even more than other vaults to discourage their use. Compare prices.

·      If you are purchasing a “protective” vault, request that it is sealed above ground. The least expensive “protective” vault is usually the best value.


·      Consider simple graveside services only, held at the cemetery either at the gravesite or in their chapel, if they have one. Most cemeteries can provide a large tent and chairs (6 or so) for a short outdoor service. Consider the weather and the attendees’ ability to stand for the length of the service planned.

·      Limit the number of visitation days to only those days that are absolutely necessary. Most funeral homes charge a per day fee for use of their facilities. Delay visitation times until family and friends can arrive.

·      Use your church for visitation and services. Consult with your clergy before making any plans. Most churches have the perfect facilities for viewing and services, and with a little planning and scheduling, you can eliminate the charges for use of the funeral home facilities. Most churches even have enough members to help the family greet visitors and coordinate services, therefore eliminating the funeral home’s charge for conducting the services (primarily the seating of friends and family, the order of the service, and the dismissal of attendees.) You would contact the funeral home for services of removal, embalming, dressing, and cosmetics, transportation to the church and then to the cemetery, and their professional fees. This can usually save the family a significant amount of money.

·      Consider cremation or body donation to a university if the costs of a burial are prohibitive. Either option can be followed by a memorial service.


·      Ask for package pricing discounts when purchasing all services and merchandise from one provider.

·      When ordering flowers, ask the florist which flowers are in season or for any specials they may have.

·      Remember to check with Social Security, Veterans, and collect all benefits and insurance monies due. There are services that help locate insurance policies that are lost or stolen.

·      Remember that protective caskets and vaults do not stop the deterioration and decomposition of the human body. Millions of dollars are spent yearly on merchandise that does not protect nor preserve as implied.

·      Veterans usually receive a small burial allowance, flag, marker, and a grave in a national cemetery. Inquire about benefits.

·      Social Security pays a small death benefit but usually only to a surviving spouse.


·      Some rural or country cemeteries have much lower fees for the cost of the grave and the costs of opening and closing the grave.

·      Consider a flat-ground level grave marker instead of an upright. Before ordering any marker get the rules from the cemetery on what they require. Veterans are given a bronze marker if they were honorably discharged.

·      You can save lots of money by buying cemetery property from individuals that no longer have need for them.



Cremation Services

·      Shop carefully for the best prices. Call funeral homes, cemeteries, and crematories. The included forms will help you keep track of the prices quoted.

·      Nonprofit consumer groups may have done the shopping for you. Check their web site at:

·      Memorial services can be held at various other locations rather than a funeral home.

·      Plan, organize, and direct memorial services without the assistance of a funeral director.

·      Consider donating the deceased to a local university for anatomical study. Each university has its own policies, so contact them prior to need. Some even pay for removal and transportation of the deceased. Cremation will follow when they are finished.

·      Scatter the ashes at your favorite place, instead of burying them at a cemetery or placing them in a niche at a columbarium. Some localities prohibit this, but little is done to enforce it if individuals are discreet in their actions. Consider having a bagpipe player or other musician perform and a few words said, whether religious or not, when burying or scattering ashes. With a little imagination and effort, a memorable, meaningful, and valuable service can be provided to the living for a minimal amount of money.


·      Before you buy an urn, consider what you will do with the ashes. The ashes are usually returned to the family in a plastic box. This box is suitable for burial or keeping the ashes until you scatter them.

·      Instead of buying an expensive urn, consider buying a vase that has a lid that can be secured or sealed. After cremation, the ashes can be put in a small plastic bag that can be placed inside your vase, in case you drop it. Whoever does the cremation will put the ashes in the container or urn.


·      Ask your florist to arrange flowers around the urn and any special pictures or memorabilia that are being used in the memorial service. If given all of the elements, the florist can design the setting to suit your needs.

·      If you decide to view the deceased before cremation, consider a rental casket or a simple inexpensive cremation casket. If the funeral home requests that someone identify the deceased before cremation, request that it be done there on the dressing table or preparation table. A casket should not be required for this purpose.

·      If you’re having memorial services, shop around for the best prices on register books, memorial folders, and Thank You cards. Funeral homes usually have a higher markup on these items.


Excerpted from When Death Occurs by John M. Reigle. Copyright © 2003 by John M. Reigle. Excerpted by arrangement with John M. Reigle. $19.95. Available in local bookstores or call 989-370-7116 or click here.