Planning a Funeral With Little or No Money

When someone close to you dies, the last thing on your mind is arranging a cheap funeral or finding ways to reduce funeral costs. Yet with unemployment rising and the economy under sustained stress, you might not be able to afford a conventional funeral that pulls out all the stops. If you can’t afford the funeral you want, you shouldn’t feel ashamed and you don’t need to despair. You can reduce funeral costs significantly without compromising the dignity of the day.

The funeral industry has come under increased scrutiny in recent years because of exploitive sales practices and unnecessary items and procedures that are often forced on the bereaved with little regard for their actual feelings or needs. In fact, the average funeral today runs well in excess of $10,000, but in the vast majority of cases there is no reason at all why it should cost anywhere near that much.

The following advice on how to plan a funeral with no money comes from funeral directors and professionals in the industry itself:

Choose Cremation

Cremation can cut as much as 75% off the cost of a traditional funeral with a casket. If relatives or friends would be alarmed by the choice of cremation, you can often rent a casket for the viewing and place photos of the deceased on top. This prevents intrusive questions and if someone does ask why the casket is closed, you can always say you would rather not discuss that right now. Most people will respect your wish not to provide details. Many people will assume the casket is closed because the body is not in a condition to view and will let the topic rest. It is really no one’s business but yours how you choose to dispose of the body, and cremation is inexpensive, clean, and respectful. Don’t reject it out of hand, especially if have a limited budget.

Look For a Discount Parlor

Although this fact is not widely publicized, many funeral homes are beginning to specialize in low-cost funeral arrangements. This is happening because of rapidly increasing demand and because such funeral homes fill a real need. Pressuring the bereaved into choosing an expensive funeral is pointless and cruel when people do not have the means to pay for one, so many funeral homes now offer discount packages. If you don’t know how to find such a place, ask. Chances are your mortuary of choice has a way to accommodate you, but you have to make your needs clear.

Take an Objective Person With You

If you are making the arrangements on your own and you are deep in grief, take someone along who can think more rationally and can help deflect sales pressure away from you, or can even gently remove you and take you to another funeral home if you are not getting the respectful service you deserve. It’s harder to pressure a grieving person into something unnecessary if an advocate with a clearer head is sitting beside that person at all times.


Once upon a time, people of modest means took out ‘funeral insurance’ to pay for their own burials. These policies were not usually a good deal and often exploited the very people to whom they were sold, but today it is possible to set up a monthly payment arrangement far in advance of your own death that is both fair and convenient. Prepaying can save your survivors thousands of dollars and make certain you get a quality burial. If you have an elderly person in your family and can’t raise the issue of funeral arrangements tactfully, see if several families members can initiate a prepayment plan so that when the time comes all will be set.

Hold a Wake at Your Home

If you have a large home and are inclined to do so, you can save money by holding a traditional viewing/wake in your home with a buffet for mourners (either catered or provided by family members). Nothing says you are obligated to provide a restaurant banquet for mourners before or after a funeral service, and nothing says you have to rent space in a funeral home for a viewing. In days gone by, in-home wakes were the norm and not the exception.

Skip Both Embalming and Sealed Caskets

Both embalming and sealed caskets are almost always unnecessary when the body is buried within 48 hours of death, and both can unnecessarily add thousands to burial costs, yet many funeral homes push them on the bereaved by playing to squeamishness about what happens after death. This disgraceful practice is changing, but don’t let anyone pressure you into an expensive and useless service. If you really want embalming, that’s fine; but if it’s being pushed on you, refuse and if you don’t get a polite response, go somewhere else.

Don’t Be Pressured Into All the Little Extras

Funeral directors sometimes push the bereaved into expensive funeral packages designed to ‘take care of everything’ when really, you don’t need to pay the funeral home to take care of everything. Thank you notes, memorial cards, decorations, and other details add up fast, and chances are very good that these materials will be marked up significantly over their actual cost were you to purchase them on your own.


With a little effort, some forethought and planning, and an advocate who can stand up for you when you are too upset to stand up for yourself, you can plan a memorable and tasteful funeral with little or no money. No shame should be felt in trying to be financially responsible, and you certainly have a right to walk out on any professional who attempts to pressure or shame you into spending more money on a funeral than you have to spend.

Spending a lot of money you don’t have won’t bring your loved one back to life. A good funeral director understands this and will respect both your and your budget; making sure to provide you with only the services you actually need at a price you can actually afford.

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