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May 20, 2019 Beyond The Dash

Why are Funerals So Expensive?

What's a fair price to lay a loved one to rest?

Why are Funerals So Expensive?
It's hard not to be skeptical of a funeral bill of $7,000 to $10,000 or more. Find out why funerals cost what they cost, and the work that goes into a memorial service. (Getty Images)

When a loved one has passed, it's easy to resent a sudden, expensive funeral bill. In a way, it's difficult to believe that, after a lifetime of bills and expenses, another is immediately due when we depart this earth. Rather than thinking about death care services as one final parting shot, it's important to understand what services are being rendered, and the labor involved in a typical funeral. 

How much does a funeral cost? 

The average price of a funeral in the United States is between $7,000 and $10,000, but can easily cost more than that. Less extravagant funeral arrangements and a strict budget can also keep costs below $7,000, with the most affordable arrangement being direct cremation.

Depending on the funeral home, the urn or casket may be included in the funeral package price; however, that's not always the case. The average casket costs between $2,000 and $5,000, but more ornate caskets can cost upward of $10,000. Hiring a musician, officiant, videographer or other extra funeral service will also add to the final cost. 

So, are funerals really that expensive?

For the services you receive in a funeral package, the pricing is actually not exorbitant. When you break down the costs, you can see where the money for a funeral actually goes. 

1. Funeral directors spend about 40 working hours on a funeral service.

Just as we trust health professionals with our well being, we trust funeral directors in the respectful handling of our dead. Over 150,000 people die each day—and they deserve to have their bodies handled with care and expediency. Just as funeral directors deserve to be paid fairly for the work that they do. 

Funeral directors handle all aspects of handling an individual's remains, including:

  • Transportation of the body to the funeral home

  • Paperwork pertaining to the death certificate

  • Arranging notary services

  • Assisting families in planning a memorial

  • Cleaning and dressing the body

  • Embalming

  • Help families make decisions about burial and cremation

  • Cremation, if the funeral home has its own crematory

  • Transportation to and from the crematory if there is no on-site crematory

  • Grief support for the bereaved

  • Assisting with selection of burial plots

  • Permanent memorialization

  • Officiating funeral ceremonies

  • Creating funeral programs and memorial cards

  • Comforting and assisting grieving family members

When you look at all the services provided by a funeral director, the time that goes into preparing a funeral service, and the cost of merchandise like caskets and urns, the pricing of a funeral begins to make more sense. 

2. Most funeral homes are small businesses.

Undertaking is a profession that often runs in families. According to SBDCNet, 89% of funeral homes in the U.S. are owned by individuals, families, or closely held private corporations, with the remaining homes owned by larger corporations. The profit made on a funeral is used to pay for running the business, maintenance and other operations.

According to Glassdoor, the average salary for a funeral director in the United States is $41,000, though they can earn $65,000 with more experience. Even funeral homes owners don't typically take home more than $92,000 per year. 

Funeral homes are businesses just like any other. They render services that most people would rather not handle on their own, such as the handling of bodies. Funeral directors work around the clock to ensure their solemn duties are done with respect to the dead as well as the grieving. They typically don't make a large profit on the hard work they do.

When funeral homes are involved in overcharging scams, the news often creates a scandal. It's difficult to imagine that those we trust in a time of need could take advantage of grief in such a way. These acts are fairly rare, compared to other industries. Though it's wise to compare prices, and understand what services are included in a funeral package, there is no need to be more skeptical the cost of funerals than the cost of services in other industries. Most funeral directors are working hard to make living wages for themselves and their families.

3. Funerals are a necessary part of life.

Though it's hard to understand a costly funeral bill at a moment when grief is the most intense, it's important to remember that this kind of expense is important. When money is tight, it may be hard to pull off a funeral, and there are ways to mitigate costs. At a minimum, however, the body must be handled, and legal paperwork must be filed, so the cost will be at least $500 for a direct cremation package though a crematorium or funeral home. 

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It's easy to resent the expenses of a funeral, but they are necessary to ensure the dead are handled professionally. The prices most funeral homes charge for a standard funeral service cover labor, merchandise and time spent making sure each funeral is enacted in accordance with the wishes of the family (and the deceased). When you think about all that goes into planning and carrying out the typical funeral service, the $7,000 price tag may not seem so steep after all.

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