“I don’t want to pay that amount of money for something I don’t want!”

I screamed these words to the funeral director who sat opposite me on the sofa two days after my husband had died.

Tears rolled down my cheeks, I felt beside myself with rage and misery. I didn’t want to have to deal with a funeral, I didn’t have any money to pay for anything, and I certainly I didn’t want my husband to have died. It felt all wrong.

Much later, I discovered that what I had paid ($3500) was in fact quite low, even though it had been an enormous amount for me.

Funerals Can Be Very Expensive

With the current average costs of a traditional funeral being around $10-12,000 in the USA, and similar amounts elsewhere in the Western world, it’s no wonder many people feel like I did in this situation.

So, is there anything that can be done to lessen these costs? If you are willing to have an open mind, the answer is yes.

The first thing is to consider your own funeral now, before it is needed – it will have to happen at some point. If you are willing to consider this before somebody else has to, then you may find you don’t want any kind of funeral at all.

You don’t have to have one. A friend of mine simply went to the pub with his children and close family when his wife died – that was what she wanted. There’s no law that states you need a funeral, in the way we usually think of them.

It is simply a ritual – one that has become normalized for us to the extent that we assume when someone dies you ring the funeral director and they will take care of it all. You can, of course, do that, nothing wrong with it, but you have to be prepared to pay!

So, here are just a few of the areas you can address to bring costs down. They are adapted from my book Before I Go: The Essential Guide to Creating A Good End-of-Life Plan.

First of all, decide whether you want a funeral or not. Legally, all that has to be done is taking care of the body according to the laws in your state or country. Otherwise, reflect on these, and make sure your wishes about them are written down and easily accessible:

Cremation or Burial Fees

If these include additional services, such as an organist, ask for them to be removed. Or opt for direct cremation, where the body is disposed of separate from any kind of ritual event.

Viewing

You don’t have to make the body available for viewing. You can simply go on with the funeral and skip this step.

Embalming

It is not compulsory nor necessary to have the body of the deceased embalmed, unless circumstances deem it so for viewing or other purposes.

Coffins

When it comes to coffins, ask for the cheapest. Opt for a shroud if it is less expensive or organize your own beforehand.

Hearse and Limousine

Ask for less ostentatious cars, or just a hearse without other vehicles.  It’s also possible to arrange to collect the body yourself.

Funeral Staff

You can ask friends and family to be your funeral staff instead of hiring people, such as pall bearers.

Minister or Another Officiant

Perhaps a close friend or relative can perform the service.

Funeral Flowers

Instead of buying tons of flowers, request people to donate to a charity, or to bring flowers from your or a friend’s garden.

Death Notice/Funeral Notification

Ask your friends and family to help with notifications by calling others on your behalf, or with posting or emailing home-made notices.

Order of Service Sheets

Design and print out order of service sheets yourself.

Venue for Wake/Funeral Reception

Instead of hiring a venue, use your home, or that of family or friends.

Catering

Ask friends and family to help with making the food/drinks at home, or to bring something to share.

Memorial

Create an online memorial site, and/or link to a charity organization.

Headstone

Plant a tree, create your own home-made offering and have it separate from what happens to the body.

Do you know what you want done with your body and/or funeral? In detail? Have you told anyone, or much better, written it down? It might be time to think on it. Please share any funeral advice you may have gained in the past years.

Jane Duncan RogersJane Duncan Rogers runs Before I Go Solutions, a not-for-profit organization that helps people design and create their end of life plans. An award-winning coach, she is author of Gifted by Grief: A True Story of Cancer, Loss and Rebirth, and Before I Go: Practical Questions to Ask and Answer Before You Die. Find out how well prepared you are for your own end of life by taking her free quiz.

Let's Have a Conversation!