How much does a funeral cost?

Published 10:00 pm Thursday, October 13, 2016

Dear Savvy Senior,

How much does an average funeral and body burial cost? I need to make funeral arrangements for my aunt, who’s terminally ill, and would like to have a cost idea going in so I can plan and budget appropriately.

~ The Executor

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Dear Executor,

It definitely pays to know what charges to expect when pre-planning a funeral. Most people don’t have a clue, and can often be upsold thousands of dollars worth of extra services you may not want or need. Here’s a breakdown of what you can expect.

Funeral Prices

The first thing you need to be aware of is that funeral costs will vary considerably depending on your geographic location, the funeral home you choose and the funeral choices you make. With that said, here’s a breakdown of what an average funeral costs, nationwide, according to recent data from the National Funeral Directors Association.

Professional services fee: This is a basic non-declinable fee that covers the funeral provider’s time, expertise and overhead. $2,000.

Transfer of the remains: This is for picking up the body and taking it to the funeral home. $310.

Embalming and body preparation: Embalming is usually mandatory for open-casket viewing, otherwise it’s not required unless the body is going to be transported across state lines. Embalming costs $695. Other body preparations, which includes hairdressing and cosmetics runs $250.

Funeral viewing and ceremony: If the viewing and funeral ceremony is at the funeral home, you’ll be charged for use of the chapel and any necessary staff. Costs: $420 for viewing, and $495 for funeral ceremony.

Metal casket: This is a big money maker for funeral homes, with markups of up to 300 percent over the wholesale price. $2,395.

Funeral transportation: Use of hearse and driver $318 to transport the body to the cemetery. Use of a service car/van $143.

Memorial printed package: This includes printed programs and memorial guest book.  $155.

In addition to these costs, there are a number of other related expenses such as flowers for the funeral (around $200 to $400), the newspaper obituary fee ($100 to $600 or more), the clergy honorarium ($200 to $300) and extra copies of the death certificate ($5 to $35 per copy depending on the state).

And, a number of large cemetery costs like the plot or mausoleum fee, the vault or grave liner that’s required by most cemeteries, and the opening and closing of the grave, all of which average between $2,000 and $4,000; and the gravestone, which typically costs between $1,000 and $3,000.

All told, the average cost of a total funeral today is around $11,000 or more.

Ways to Save

If you aunt’s estate can’t afford this, there are ways to save. For starters, you should know that prices can vary significantly by funeral provider, so it’s wise to shop around.

If you need some help finding an affordable provider, your area funeral consumers alliance program may be able to refer you. See or call 802-865-8300 for contact information.

There are also free websites you can turn to, like that lets you compare prices, and that will provide estimates from local funeral homes based on what you want.    

When evaluating funeral providers, be sure you get an itemized price list of services and products so you can accurately compare and choose what you want.

But, the most significant way to save on a funeral is to request a “direct burial” or “direct cremation.” With these options your aunt would be buried or cremated shortly after death, which skips the embalming and viewing. If she wants a memorial service you can have it at the graveside or at her place of worship without the body. These services usually run between $600 and $2,000, not counting cemetery charges.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.