Yes, You’ve Gotta Shop….even for a cremation!

Who would believe it, but you and your family can be gouged if you don’t shop around for cremation services.  You’d think a cremation would be pretty straightforward;  the funeral home picks up the body, puts it in a blast furnace and collects the ashes to be returned to the family or discarded.  Easy peasy, right?   Wrong!


Like so much about the funeral business, cremations can be expensive and complicated.   We conducted an exercise in shopping for cremations in the greater San Diego area and found prices differed by as much as 80%.   And even though funeral homes already  required under the 1984 federal Funeral Rule to provide a “general price list” to anyone who visits and asks about services,they are not required to post their price list online, except in California which is the only state in the U.S. that requires it.

Direct Cremation is an increasingly popular option;  as of 2016, 50% of funeral services involved cremation.   A direct cremation is when the deceased is immediately cremated, with no service, and the cremated remains directly returned to the family or scattered.  It’s lower cost is not surprising, as it can be conducted in certain areas of the United States for as little as $495.  Generally a direct cremation can be conducted for between $695 and $1,095 in most cities if you select an affordable cremation services provider.  DFS Memorials was set up in 2012 as a network of low cost cremation providers.  For San Diego, DFS will link you with a funeral service that will do a direct cremation for as low as $695.    However, we found an even lower cost provider;  nonprofit Trident Society does cremations for under $600.
San Diego Memorial Society offers a review of a number of different services offering cremation.  They range from $595-900.   You can check out a few, if you don’t want to use Trinity.  You can join this Memorial Society and have them negotiate the cremation terms for you, rather than you doing it yourself, if you’d be more comfortable with that.  It costs $90 to join.
Or you can check out the Funeral Consumers Alliance, get the number to your nearest chapter, and ask for the nearest cremation society. 
The key is to only use memorial or funeral services that will post their prices online and will provide you with a direct cremation package that doesn’t require you to purchase extra services, such as transportation and urns.   (By the way,  a cremation urn can cost as little as about $20, and you can buy one for well under $100 at a number of places online, including the websites of major retailers such as Costco.) Many funeral services or crematoriums will offer different options that, of course, increase the price of the service such as:
  • having the body present for visiting hours and a funeral with cremation afterward
  • having the body cremated first with visiting hours and a funeral afterward (with or without the “ashes” present)
  • having the body cremated first and then arranging for any services on your own.
Be careful, for every option they offer you will boost the price.  You should also avoid getting locked into buying the service in advance;  the services will try to sell you on putting down a deposit and signing a contract, but the savings are illusory.
And remember, comparison shopping will pay off.  The price swing for direct cremations was even crazier in other cities.  A Kansas City newspaper reported that direct cremations — the least costly alternative — ranged from $675 to $3,035, based on the survey by the Funeral Consumers Alliance of Greater Kansas City.  That’s nuts!
In Texas, one consumer reported that the charge for a direct cremation ranged from $710 to a high of $3820, depending on which funeral home one used.  “What makes these numbers even more amazing is; all these funeral homes use the SAME CREMATORY and pay the same fee!”.
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