Funerals are expensive. It's unpleasant to think about funeral arrangments at all, let alone the financial aspect, but sooner or later we all must expire. So it goes. But if you're making your own pre-arrangements, or dealing with the loss of a loved one, there are ways to save money while still honoring one's life and memory.

The average cost for an adult funeral in America in 2006 was $7,323, not including burial, according to the National Funeral Directors Association. That cost can easily soar over $10,000 if you choose some of the pricier options.

If you know some of the pitfalls to avoid and some money-saving strategies, you can plan a very nice funeral on a budget. Here are some tips to help you avoid exorbitant funeral costs the next time you are charged with this unfortunate task:

The least expensive way to handle the remains of a loved one is to have a cremation. A direct cremation, in which the body is cremated immediately without a funeral service or viewing, is the least expensive option. In most places, you can have this done for less than $1,000, but prices can vary significantly between crematoriums. You can also save money by having a cremation after the viewing and/or funeral, but you will have to pay for embalming services, a casket and facility costs. Ask about renting a casket if this is your choice.

Direct Burial

Like a direct cremation, this is when the body is immediately buried without embalming or viewing. A simple wooden box can be use in place of a casket. Instead of a funeral, a memorial service can be held after the burial.

Other Burial Options
Some cemeteries require you to buy concrete grave liner. Typically there is more than one option at different price points. Cemeteries can charge over $1,000 for the “burial vault” grave liners. Always opt for the least expensive liner. The only difference it makes is to your wallet. You can also save on burial costs by choosing less expensive headstones and monuments. These are also available online.

The casket is easily the most costly expense for a funeral. According to funeral directors' association, the average metal casket costs $2,255, but more expensive models can cost $5,000 to $10,000. The mark up on caskets is often 300% to 500%. Funeral directors are required by the Federal Trade Commission's “Funeral Rule” to show you a list of caskets for sale at all price ranges. Realize that you are probably going to be directed towards more expensive options, but a casket is just a casket. Once it’s buried in the ground no one will ever see it again.

The Funeral Rule also mandates that funeral homes must accept third-party caskets and cannot charge a handing fee. There are numerous online casket retailers that offer caskets at as much as half off. They can be quickly shipped to the funeral home sometimes overnight.

Comparison Shop
While you may not be in the mood for comparison shopping when planning a funeral, you can save thousands by just looking in a few places. It’s wise to call a few funeral homes and get price lists over the phone. Prices can vary greatly from one funeral home to the next.

Plan Ahead
To avoid saddling your loved ones with paying for your funeral, consider taking out a life insurance policy for that purpose. Or you can open a special savings account jointly with your next of kin that can be quickly drawn from when the time comes. Better yet, make your own pre-arrangements and pay for everything yourself now, before your family is saddled with the burden.

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