Dear Savvy Senior,

When my brother died last year, my sister and I had a regular funeral for him and got stuck with a $12,000 bill. Can you recommend some funeral cost-cutting tips or cheaper alternatives? I don’t want to stick my kids with a big funeral bill after I’m gone.

– Looking Ahead

Dear Looking,

With the average cost of a full-service funeral running over $10,000 today, many people are seeking alternative options to make their final farewell more affordable. Depending on how you want to go, here are some money-saving options to consider.

Traditional funeral: If you’re interested in a traditional funeral and burial, your first money-saving step is to shop around and compare funeral providers, because prices can vary.

If you want some help, go online to the Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Information page ( and search “choosing a funeral provider.”

When comparing, make sure you take advantage of the “funeral rule.” This is a federal law that requires funeral-home directors to provide you with an itemized price list of their products and services so you can choose exactly what you want. Be sure to ask for it.

Direct burial: Another way to cut your funeral-home bill is to get a direct burial. With this option your body would be buried shortly after death, skipping the embalming, viewing, and use of the funeral facilities.

If your family wants a memorial service, they can have it at the graveside or at your place of worship without the body. These services usually cost between $1,000 and $2,000, not counting cemetery charges. All funeral homes offer direct burial.

Cremation: An increasingly popular and affordable way to go, cremation can run anywhere from around $600 (for a direct cremation) up to $4,000 or higher depending on the provider and services you choose.

Green burial: An eco-friendly green burial is another affordable option that costs anywhere from $1,000 to several thousand depending on the provider.

With a green cemetery burial, the body is buried in a biodegradable coffin or just wrapped in a shroud, without embalming chemicals or a burial vault.

Veteran’s burial: If you are a veteran, you’re entitled to a free burial at a national cemetery and a free grave marker. This benefit also extends to spouses and dependent children.

Some veterans may even be eligible for funeral-expense allowances too. To learn more, visit the National Cemetery Administration ( or call the VA at (800) 827-1000.

Body donation: Donating your body to a medical facility for research is another popular way to go, and it’s completely free. After using your body, your remains will be cremated and your ashes will be buried or scattered in a local cemetery or returned to your family.

To locate body-donation programs in your state, see the Anatomical Board of the State of Florida’s online list (

Jim Miller is a regular contributor to the NBC Today show and author of The Savvy Senior Book.

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