Funerals Cost Too Much Money

My father died in 1994.

His funeral cost $5,000.

The only reason we got away with costs that low was that Daddy had given us clear instructions that he wanted the least expensive casket and trimmings that we could get.

“My body is going to rot, anyway,” he said. “So why does it matter? Don’t you dare waste money on burying me.”

That helped us a lot when the funeral home people came at us with their vague suggestions about caskets that would leak and other subtle comments designed to guilt us into spending too much for what wouldn’t help my father one bit. The interesting moment in the negotiations came after every casket they showed us was well over $2000. My niece happened to spot a steel casket that was hidden away under another one.

I still remember how disgusted the funeral director looked when she found that $1000 casket. It was, I imagine, something they kept out of sight unless it was needed for people who really couldn’t afford to pay.

There was talk of life insurance all through the discussions. It turns out that funeral homes are very willing for you to sign the proceeds of your family member’s life insurance over to them in advance of your getting it. The implication we got was that if we didn’t, they would leave Daddy’s body parked out on the curb for the garbage collectors to take.

Fortunately, we had the money to pay for the funeral. And we had Daddy’s clear instructions. And we attended a wonderful church that didn’t charge us a dime for the use of their facilities.

Daddy got a warm, spiritual send-off, and we weren’t robbed blind in the process.

Things have been a little dicier for my sister this week. She and my brother-in-law didn’t have the cash on hand to pay for his funeral, so family members are chipping in to pay for it. My brother-in-law had evidently expressed a wish to be cremated, so that’s the way my sister is going with this.

It’s really rough for people who are ravaged by grief to be forced to cut corners on their family members’ funerals. I imagine it feels to many of them like the concern for money is over-concern and that they are disrespecting their loved one by not spending freely.

I think the funeral industry loves the survivor’s guilt that people feel after someone dies. I think they prey on it in subtle ways throughout the funeral planning negotiations. It is a simple fact that when someone you love dies, you are going to feel remorse for things you said or didn’t say; things you did or didn’t do. No one is perfect, and neither is any relationship between two people.


When you are confronted with the reality that you will never see them again in this life, it doesn’t matter how loving your relationship was or how steadfastly you may have cared for them; you will suddenly feel swamped with remorse for what you didn’t do, even if what you didn’t do isn’t worth a hill of beans.

That’s just the way it is. It happens to everyone. Unfortunately, that feeling of remorse makes you even more vulnerable to the manipulations of funeral directors who are trying to sell you upwards in what you do for your loved one’s funeral.

As I said, I still remember the talk about caskets that leaked when we were putting together Daddy’s funeral. Who wants to think about someone they love, lying in the ground with water running into their casket? What kind of person would be indifferent to that?

I guess the kind of person who could be, if not indifferent, at least immune to the manipulation the talk of leaking caskets represents, is someone whose father told them, “My body is going to rot, anyway, so what does it matter?”

I was with Daddy when he died. I had no doubt at all that he was dead. I also knew that only his body had died. He was still alive. His body had stopped and he had stepped out of it. He wasn’t gone, he had just gone on ahead of me. The body he left behind wasn’t him.

But, even though I knew he wasn’t in it anymore, I still loved his body. I remember when I was little and our family went to the zoo, he would lift me up and put me on his shoulders and I would ride around looking at the animals from that lofty perch. I loved those shoulders, love them still. Those arms held me when I cried, that face smiled when I walked into a room. I loved my father’s body, even though it was now just an empty shell that, yes, was going to rot.

So how we did his funeral, the way we treated what funeral directors so aptly call “the remains” mattered.

Families should not be put through guilt-enhancing manipulations and “sold” into spending more money than they can afford when they are so vulnerable with grief. I know that running a funeral home is a business. I believe that people who do it deserve to make a living. However, they have chosen this business which puts them in the position of selling their wares to vulnerable people. They should have accepted the responsibility to behave ethically that goes with that business when they chose it.

Funerals cost too much money. Part of the reason is that people overspend when they go to the funeral home to make “the arrangements.”

Funerals cost too much money. Most of the reason is that the funeral home business is a monopoly that, at least here in Oklahoma, is protected by laws that were written by and passed for the industry itself.

That’s an old, old story, isn’t it? I wonder: Is there any industry that doesn’t use the elected representatives of the people to write laws for itself that do harm to the people the representatives were elected to protect? I don’t know of one.

Funerals cost too much money. There are a lot of reasons, but corporate funeral homes that operate as chains certainly contribute to the overcharging.

I am not in a very good mood today. I am put out by the unkindness of the way that corporate policies, legislative indifference and guilt combine to make life so much harder than it needs to be for people when they go through losing someone they love.

Everyone dies and none of us like to think about it.

I think that is the ultimate reason that funerals cost too much. None of us want to think about it until we have to, so we let these forces conspire against us in the laws, the culture and our own hearts. That means that when we walk into that funeral home feeling shell-shocked and so grieved we have trouble standing upright and drawing in a breath both at the same time, we are easy prey for the pickings that are coming at us.

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  • joannemcportland

    Making arrangements ahead of time (I know, the creepy phrase “pre-need”) really helps to cut down on the upselling. I think there’s a ministry in this somewhere for churches, beyond the bereavement teams who do, mostly, a terrific job organizing services and providing hospitality. If people could attend workshops on planning, with strong spiritual support, it might help. I have worked with very compassionate funeral directors, but it is a business. Consumers should be as educated about this as any other purchase.

    • Rebecca Fuentes

      I think that’s a wonderful idea, Joanne. Also, I think today’s blog highlights how leaving our wishes written down can really help our loved ones after our death.

    • Sus_1

      I had the privilege of being with my husband’s Grandma when she pre-planned and prepaid for her funeral. It was a little awkward because she was proud for never ever paying full price for ANYTHING. She picked out the music and even had a list of priests who she wanted to officiate. At the time I wasn’t thrilled about going with her but when she died I was extremely grateful for it. There wasn’t anything to do but grieve.

  • tedseeber
  • JessicaHof

    I agree, Rebecca. It is the same in the UK.

  • sara marsden

    Wow, Rebecca, this is such a powerful post. You have expressed so succinctly and eloquently how vile the funeral industry can be. I have to say here, there are many very compassionate, dedicated funeral professionals who – yes – run businesses, but are committed to serving the community they service [in many cases as their grandfather's before them did.]

    The corporate funeral industry does not work like this, nor do many large scale funeral companies, who have profiteered from other people’s grief for decades.

    The positive news is that the death care industry IS in a significant stage of change right now. The trend towards cremation, and indeed ‘simple’ alternatives, to traditional funerals is spawning a new era in death care in the U.S. Many within the industry are trying to ignore or deny the change – this being what families want – but a few are responding and affordable, dignified funerals are available.

    In Oklahoma you can arrange a simple, dignified cremation for $785 complete, or $2,795 (including a casket) for a traditional funeral. This is offered by a local, family-owned funeral home. Check out DFS Memorials Oklahoma to connect with a simple, low cost funeral option. The bad economy, loss of jobs & low-paid employment has resulted in too many families struggling financially. It is soul-destroying to deal with families who are distraught with loss and then worrying about how they can pay for a funeral.

    Over-paying for a funeral does not make it any more dignified….and funerals should NOT cost as much as they do.

  • pagansister

    When my mother-in-law died, she was cremated, and we took her ashes to the rocky shore of RI, and placed them in the water. No casket, and the cost of cremation was around $1,600. She had no problems with the idea of cremation. In fact she said she would have had my father-in-law cremated in 1978, but it was not easy to find a place for that service then. Both my parents didn’t like the idea of that, so they were buried in the plots they had purchased many years before. I’m not sure what their funerals cost, as my sister made the arrangements and they fortunately had enough money to pay for them, in 2002 and 2005. Yes, funerals are all in all a rip-off, and IMO, many are of the grieving are taken advantage of by the funeral homes. Funerals are for the living.

  • FW Ken

    Mother did Dad’s funeral in 1996, so when she died last November, it was my first run at planning a funeral (with my siblings, of course). I’m a city boy, but here is where a small town shines. Our family has been buried out of the same funeral home for almost a century. In fact, the secretary showed me the ledger page for my great-great grandmother’s funeral in 1933. My great-grandfather paid $108.95.

    The current mortician knew my mother well and there really was no pressure. Her beautician did her hair for no charge. Mother was a Baptist in a Baptist community, and the rituals are pretty well set, so the price was pretty well set. So we were lucky in these matters. It wasn’t cheap, but I didn’t feel like we bought anything we didn’t want to buy. It helps the grieving process to feel that Mother had a send-off that honored her life and heritage.

    Now the cost to probate a self-proving will… that’s another matter.

  • Patty Beggs

    We were blessed with a wonderful funeral director who listened to us and directed us to what “Tom” would have liked. Like your father he knew he would no longer be in his body but with our Lord and would joke to bury him in the back yard with the dogs! With the assurance that Tom is Home we knew everything from that fateful day would be for us to help us grieve and mourn the person we loved the most.

    So the director sat down with us went over everything on what he thought would be a fitting tribute to Tom from what we told him and then offered to show us a few other things if we wanted to. We did but actually went back to his recommendation which was very reasonably priced. He saved us money in other areas too on not paying too much for the vault etc…and told us we could pay when the insurance money comes in and if we pay it within 30 days we get a discount and we did, more than I thought. Such a big difference from the funeral home who took care of my aunt last summer. So there are some Christian Godly people out in the world that will not take advantage of widows and loved ones.

  • EMS

    My mother’s death in 2009 was unexpected, and we were all scrambling. She (and Dad) always said they wanted to be cremated, so that’s what was done. Since her death was unexpected, we didn’t really know what to do, and it didn’t help that Mom and I were in CA, and my sister and her family is in MN (my brother lives in IL, but he pretty much decided he was an orphan years ago and had little to do with anything). The cheapest cremation was $2000, and that didn’t include the burial plot. My sister arranged to have the burial in MN at a small church owned cemetary, which was really rather pretty, but that was another $2000 (not to mention the cost going to the funeral in MN). When Dad died 2 years ago, it wasn’t a shock, and I’d been getting some junk mail from various places about donating his body. Which was what I did. He was donated to Loma Linda’s Medical School. It cost $300 for their pickup, and when they are finished, they will cremate him and return the ashes to me. I just bought an urn online to hold his ashes when I receive them back. (You can choose to have them bury the ashes in their facility at no cost.) The Church has no objection to donating bodies to science, the cost is minimal, and the schools are begging for bodies to use for their students. If I had to do it over, I’d have done the same thing for Mom when she died, and I plan on having the same done to me when I die.