Funeral Consumers Alliance of California

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Frugal Funerals
Once you have decided to have an economically or environmentally-conscious funeral, it can be difficult to know how to do it or even where to start. Hopefully this list of steps will help you on your way.

1. Do it yourself as much as possible

Hold funeral or memorial services at home, church, public space with family members in charge.
Make the urn or casket - plans can be found using a search online.
Scatter ashes at favorite park or site—can be done by family or friends.
Friends can provide flowers from their gardens or reusable potted plants for around the casket.
Friends and relatives can provide refreshments rather than using a caterer.
Some churches have funeral committees to help their members.
A person in your family with computer skills can produce a funeral or memorial printed program, or a DVD of highlights of the person’s life.
California law permits a family to conduct a funeral for their own loved one. FCA can provide information to answer your questions. Here is one brochure and a manual for conducting a home funeral. The Bay Area Funeral Consumers Assn. has posted several pages about home funerals on its website that might be helpful. 

2. Whatever you do, PLAN AHEAD

 Pre-planning leaves time for comparison shopping or choosing alternative arrangements. Some Funeral Consumers Alliance chapters are “buying clubs” that offer lower prices at selected mortuaries for their members. Most have already done a price survey to simplify your shopping. You may save hundreds or thousands of dollars at the time of the funeral as a result of joining an Alliance chapter and planning ahead.

3.  Study your funeral home's General Price List and compare 

If you choose a funeral home, make sure you know what you want to pay for and what you don't. Be selective, you don’t need one of everything. Be critical of package plans, as they may be a bargain—or a way to sell you more products and services that you can easily do without.

4. Check who owns the business. 

Corporate-owned funeral homes in most instances charge the highest prices, FCA chapters have found. Look for a locally-owned one. That said, some locally-owned ones are also very expensive. Use the FCA funeral home price surveys for your area, and consider funeral homes that may be farther away.

5. Avoid the embalming cost

A closed casket or direct burial without viewing are embalming-free options. Refrigeration and then dry ice around the body may be okay with some funeral homes, and is definitely okay in a home funeral situation.

6. Choose a simple casket

A simple casket can be an attractive alternative to a $5,000 one. Use it just as it is or prettify it with a pall of a quilt, a piece of pretty fabric, velvet, a flag. A spray of flowers dresses up a plain casket. A pine casket is “in” now because it is biodegradable and green. A 20 gauge metal casket costs less than 18 or 16 gauge and does the same job of encasing the body.

7. Provide clothing for the deceased 

Rather than buying new things from the funeral home, you may provide clothing for the deceased from home.

8. Skip the grave liners and vaults 

Grave liners and vaults are not required under California Law, but cemeteries routinely require them to prevent the grave site from sinking and simplify lawn mowing. A rural cemetery may allow a casket to be buried without an outer burial container.

9. Look into funeral benefits from organizations.

 The Veterans Administration, labor union, or employers may provide funeral benefits. Social Security death benefit is only $255—if the deceased left a dependent or spouse.