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Understanding Funeral Costs

Guide to Cremation (2)Funeral ceremonies help us move through grief by giving us the experiences we need to mourn and eventually heal. In that regard, funeral rituals are truly priceless.

However, it is important to be mindful of budgets when choosing funeral services and merchandise. Families can prepare themselves by becoming familiar with the cost of different customs and practices in advance, and maybe considering a prepayment option to lock in today’s prices and avoid the cost of inflation.

Let’s get started with this 5-step guide to understanding and controlling funeral costs.

Choosing You Budget

On average in Virginia, burial services in total cost between $9,000 to $13,000, and total cremation services cost between $5,000 to $7,000. 

So, being educated about your options and choosing a price goal that puts you in control of your budget is essential. Funeral homes are required to have a General Price List for all their services, merchandise, and personalization options and make them available to families upon request. However, these documents can be confusing, and the simplest way to determine what a funeral home charges is to speak directly to a funeral director.  A good funeral director will ask you for your budget and then work to provide options that help you keep your costs in control.

To help prepare you for that conversation, here are the 5 categories that impact a funeral’s total cost:

  1. Disposition Choice: Burial or Cremation
  2. Service Option Selections like Memorial Service, Graveside, Public Visitations, etc.
  3. Merchandise Selections such as type of Casket or Urn, Cemetery Vault, etc.
  4. Personalization Option Selections, including flowers, stationery, memorial DVDs, keepsake jewelry, etc.
  5. 3rd Party Cash Advance Costs such as cemetery fees, newspaper obituary fees, clergy honorariums, etc.

Controlling Your Budget

Families can often meet their budget target by first selecting a disposition type (burial or cremation) that fits their spending goal and then decide which service and personalization options they want or can afford.

What is your budget goal? Remember, total funeral costs typically range from about $5,000 to $13,000 or more.

Step 1: Final Disposition Choice

funeral-cost (1)

The differences in cost are one reason why many people today are choosing cremation options over burial, and why the final arrangement of the body (called disposition) is one of the most impactful choices that families will make. 

Burial versus Cremation Costs

The basic activity involved for a burial are usually different from that of cremation. For burial, the body of the deceased will need preparation, particularly if the body will be publicly displayed in an open casket. These services may include embalming*, washing and dressing the body, applying makeup, and other related services. 

If the body will be cremated, there are frequently a different set of services required such as refrigeration (in lieu of embalming) crematory fees, etc. However, should the family want a public viewing and service with the deceased’s body present these options are also available for cremation families.

*Virginia Law does not require bodies to be embalmed and this service is not always necessary. It largely depends on how quickly the body will be buried and if the family would like a public viewing.

A note about Direct Cremation & Immediate Burial

With direct cremation the body is cremated without any other rituals or services, and with immediate burial the body is taken to the cemetery and buried without any other rituals or services. While these options can be the most affordable, it is also important to remember that family members who are going through grief may benefit from the healing rituals that memorial and funeral services, public visitations, etc. can bring.

Step 2: Service Options

There is not a large difference in cost between holding a funeral or memorial services versus a graveside or columbarium service only.  However, while each service type or ritual provides opportunities for healing, they may also add to the overall service cost.

Here are some popular service options and rituals available for both burial and cremation. 

  • Funeral or memorial service 
  • Graveside or columbarium service
  • Public Viewing or Visitation
  • Private Family Viewing
  • Friends Reception following the service

Step 3: Merchandise Selections

There are a wide variety of caskets and urns available, with a wide variety of prices ranging from just a few hundred dollars to many thousands of dollars. The material used to manufacture the casket or urn along with its protective qualities, special features and hand workmanship all impact the price.  

 

Casket price options range from $550 to $8,995, and are made in a variety of sizes, materials and qualities - from Fiberboard or basic carbon steel to highly durable bronze and copper caskets or hand-made cherry, oak or mahogany. 

For in-ground burials, some cemeteries also require an outer burial container (Vault). These receptacles encase and protect the casket and help keep the ground from settling over time. Prices for these range from $1,250 to $14,995 depending on the strength and durability of the vault. 

Urns also have a wide range in pricing with options available from $45 to $3,480 depending on the material used and special design features. In cases where the urn will be buried, some cemeteries require an outer burial container for urns and prices for these range from $495 to $1,695 depending on the strength and durability of the urn vault.
For burials most people also choose to have a grave marker - which can range from a simple, flat headstone for several hundred dollars to a more expensive upright headstone. Again, this gives families the freedom to choose how much they want to spend.

Step 4: Personalization Options

Funeral ceremonies are meaningful events that can help ease the pain of separation that naturally accompanies a death. They can also be a time of sharing good memories and experiences with friends and family. Many of these service personalization options cost very little, but it is still important to be mindful of your budget goal. 

Although there are unlimited options to personalize the event, here are some of the most popular personalization options that families choose:

  • Flowers
  • Special Music or Live Performances
  • Keepsake jewelry
  • Memorial DVD or other photo displays

Step 5: 3rd Party Cash Advances

Funeral directors do their best to make a challenging time less difficult for the family of the deceased by contacting 3rd party companies and individuals on your behalf. To that end, they will usually coordinate arrangements for the memorial service, burial, and other administrative tasks. This includes paying these 3rd party vendors for their services on your behalf and adding these fees to your final invoice. 

These types of charges include things like:

  • Cemetery Charges
  • Certified Death Certificates
  • Newspaper obituary fees
  • Catering, flowers, etc.
  • Hired Musicians 
  • Church Fees
  • Clergy Honorariums
  • Virginia State Sales tax on merchandise sales

Burial Plots

Across the United States there are a variety of burial options - from church cemeteries to private family plots to larger, public cemeteries. Many people want to be buried alongside their other family members and may have even paid in advance for their burial plot and cemetery services. You can speak directly to your funeral director for more information about how to obtain a burial plot.

Inflation and Funeral Costs

Every year the cost of goods and services goes up with inflation - and the funeral industry is no different. Historically, in the United States, funeral expenses have risen at a rate of nearly 9% per year. So, you can expect your final price to be affected by the cumulative inflation of 90% after 10 years. Therefore, if your budget is $10,000 today, then you would need to be prepared to pay $19,000 in 10 years. 

Locking in a Price by Preplanning

One of the best aspects of planning in advance is locking in a price by setting up a payment arrangement that fits your needs. This method can also prevent the financial burden from being placed on your family after you are gone.

Give your loved ones the gift of pre-planning your funeral. You can choose your own budget, personalize your services and honor your family and friends by giving them profound healing rituals that they will remember and appreciate. 

Talk with a Planning Specialist

Benefits of Planning Ahead

Once you have begun thinking about your choices, it’s time to meet with a funeral director to help you finalize your arrangements. If you have already decided on a funeral home, they should be able to connect you with a preplanning director to meet with you at either the funeral home or even at your home.

Communicate with your family

If you haven’t made your wishes known, your survivors may quarrel over whether to bury or cremate your body. When you make your end-of-life decisions now, your final needs are much more likely to be handled according to your wishes. 

Stick to a budget

Like everything else, funeral costs are increasing. If you pre-plan and pre-pay for your memorial and cremation services, your family won't face exorbitant fees during an emotionally stressful time.

Advance planning provides a number of important benefits to you and to your family.

 

Tell your story

If you’ve planned a memorial service in advance, you can write messages or even capture videos to be shared at the service. These personalized messages can be a great comfort to your friends and family. People take the last words very seriously, and what is shared at the memorial service is likely to remain with them for a lifetime.

writing message to deceased loved one