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We Paid Cash: My Father’s Funeral

We paid cash!A testimony from Lisa

In June 2013, my father passed away. It wasn’t totally unexpected. He had diabetes, his health had been declining, and earlier in the year his doctor said his kidneys were failing.

However, I was still shocked when my brother called me to let me know my father passed away. That week was stressful as we hurried to make funeral arrangements and clean out my father’s apartment. But the biggest stress was the financial burden of the funeral that fell upon me and my three siblings.

My father was not good at budgeting his money, and he didn’t have a life plan. He had very little money in the bank. He had no life insurance. He rented an apartment, and the only assets he had were a washer, dryer, fridge, and an old car. Recouping enough money to cover the funeral costs was not going to happen.

As we began to research the cost of a funeral, we looked for ways to minimize the financial burden by choosing options that were less expensive. The funeral costs still totaled close to $7,000, which is inexpensive compared to most funerals.

We reached out to my father’s three brothers and asked if they would help out with the funeral. Thankfully they each said that they would contribute. With seven people contributing money, that meant we each needed to pay $1,000. But before the funeral could happen, the total cost had to be paid in full up front.

One thousand dollars is a large sum of money for me and my family. Thankfully, my husband and I had an emergency fund, and we were able to pull from it to cover our portion of the funeral. If we didn’t have an emergency fund, my siblings would have had a greater financial burden to carry.

You never think that something like this will happen to you until it does unexpectedly. What a blessing it was that we made the decision years ago to build up an emergency fund.

Now we are working on adding back that money to our emergency fund just in case the unexpected happens again. Some months, we only have an extra $20 to add to our emergency fund. Other months, we are able to put in more depending on the month’s expenses that need to be paid.

What’s important is that we are trying to set aside money each month, and we know that every little amount helps us get closer to our goal. We hope that an experience like this won’t happen to us again in the near future, but if it does, we will at least be financially prepared.

Lisa is a stay-at-home mother of two girls, and a wife to an amazing husband. She loves cooking, organizing, playing the piano, ballroom dancing, and providing money-saving tips and deals for families on her blog, Saving Cent by Cent.

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43 Comments

  • Mel says:

    I’m going through this right now, handling my Uncle’s final disposition. He also rented, had no life insurance, few items of value, and little income. He was in a skilled nursing facility for the last 6 months (aggressive cancer) and as his POA, I was able to start banking his small income so that there is some money to pay final expenses. I think his brothers are going to have to pitch in some money in the end, but at least I’m able to show them how much was saved in advance.

    • Lisa Park says:

      I’m sorry to hear about your uncle. But I’m glad that you were able to save some money to help with expenses. Even a little bit helps so it’s not such a big financial stress.

  • Marlin says:

    Wow…this is really an eye opening story and thank God that you have an emergency fund. It remind me of my father in-law he just passed this February. And we were panicking how to do the funeral because no one in the family have a big chunk of cash sitting around. Thank God after we were searching all his important documents we found out he had just enough life insurance to cover all the funeral cost.

    • Lisa Park says:

      It’s difficult when a loved one passes away. What a blessing that your father-in-law did have enough life insurance to cover the funeral costs. Thank you for sharing.

  • I’m so sorry to hear about your father. My grandfather passed away in June of this year and we experienced a similar situation. The funeral home we worked with would have accepted the insurance policy as payment (without us paying up front) if 1) the insurance company confirmed the active policy and 2) the insurance company agreed to send the check directly to the funeral home. Unfortunately the VA refused to cut the check to the funeral home, we found out about this two hours before the funeral. Luckily my grandparents had a credit card available that covered the $9,000 as the short notice would have prevented any of us from getting the cash.

    I really hadn’t experienced this personal of a death before. It was certainly a learning experience, my husband and I are working on gathering the information necessary to save our families any issues in the case of an unexpected incident.

    Take care – thanks for sharing your story.

    • Lisa Park says:

      Thank you for sharing what happened to you. That would have been really stressful to find that out hours before the funeral. This has been an eye opener for me, and we too are trying to make sure that everything is in place so that we won’t financially burden our family.

  • JD says:

    We helped with the final burial costs for two family members. It was a great help to reach into savings and write a check to assist with the costs.

    • Lisa Park says:

      I’m sure that those family members were very grateful for your generosity. We were extremely grateful for our uncles who pitched in, and for a few people who also gave some money. Every little bit was a blessing.

  • Monica says:

    It is so important that we have insurance. The pressure and stress of having to pay for a funeral and having to use money that was saved up for ‘your emergency’ can create problems with siblings and family. My mother experienced this with her siblings many years ago. I hope I never experience this. Sadly, not many of us think about it or just don’t care of the burden and the bind the family will be put in, if this should occur. Everyone has an appointment with death. It’s just a matter of when…

  • Anonymous says:

    We went through this last year with my husband’s mother. Her death was very sudden. Luckily, she did have some money put away, as well as some insurance money. Her total funeral costs were around $14,000. One of the largest single items purchased was the casket, at a cost of almost $,000. It was absolutely shocking to me two weeks later when I saw the SAME casket online at walmart.com, for only $1,500! In fact, almost the entire contents of the ‘showroom’ were available on walmart’s website, all at a fraction of the cost. We were all in shock at her death, and it never occurred to us to check outside the funeral home for the casket or some of the other large ticket costs. I wanted to share this in the hopes of helping someone else.

  • Karen says:

    First, I realize this may not align with everyone’s beliefs, and that’s okay! I just wanted to share it because it I feel it’s worth consideration, especially when money is an issue.

    My sweet daddy died rather unexpectedly in April 2013. My mom, always mindful of finances, chose to have my dad cremated. Rather than work through a funeral home (where they often try to sell you all kinds of “extras”), a dear friend of my mom’s did a lot of research (we knew my dad would be gone with about 48 hours notice) and we ended up dealing with the local cremation society.

    My dad died on a Tuesday evening. The service came to the hospital that night and picked up the body. They helped to arrange an autopsy (my dad died of a rare disease and had agreed to donate some organs to the study of the disease) and totally took care of all the communication with the hospital. A sweet lady from the cremation service came to my mom’s house and helped her make all the necessary decisions and by that Friday, the service delivered my dad’s ashes back to their home, complete with an American flag and some very reverent and kind words, honoring my dad’s military service. We were very impressed. The total cost for all of this was $2200. We have plans to scatter my dad’s ashes so that cost does not include a plot or stone, etc. so that would have been additional.

    I mention this not to offend or make anyone uncomfortable but just to share a MUCH less expensive option, should it align with your beliefs. It was so nice not to have to deal with an even more major expense on top of everything else we were going through.

    • My dad wants to be cremated. I appreciate this information.

    • Liz says:

      Thanks for sharing 🙂 and sorry about your daddy.

      When i die i want the cheapest thing possible, if they can sell my body and someone needs the money then i guess i’ll be up for sale.

      • Kirsten says:

        Liz, my dad also passed away in June, and his literal wishes were “no funeral, no creamation, dispose of my body in the cheapest way possible”… for real.

        I donated his body to science. The hospice where he passed (he was only in hospice for 16 hours but they were VERY helpful) was amazing with setting it up for me. When speaking with the program that took him (Science Care, nationwide I believe) they asked what I wanted with his remains after the donations were harvested – I could either get them back OR I could donate to a long-term scientific research opportunity with the navy that he qualified for. I chose that option!

        I DO NOT mean this post to offend anyone. This option is NOT FOR EVERYONE for sure. But if you want a FREE (didn’t cost me a cent, didn’t get a cent in return) option, this is one.

      • Kathy L. says:

        My 50-year-old husband passed away in March 2011. My pastor knew of a place that did low-cost cremations. (We live in Southern California.) It only cost $1100 and they did not try to sell me anything. My husband’s remains were put in a sealed plastic container and placed in a drawstring velvet bag. We had the service at our church and the church members supplied the music, flowers, slide show of my husband (I supplied the pictures), and food. It was a surprisingly light-hearted event. My church friends made a difficult time much easier.

    • Lisa Park says:

      Thanks for sharing your story and the information so that others know of a less expensive option.

  • My mother-in-law died recently. Some of the things my father-in-law chose to help keep the costs down:

    He chose a less expensive plot in the cemetery, near the gate. He purchased it as a double plot, so when he dies he will be buried on top in the same plot.

    He chose a flat gravestone that is on the ground.

    He chose to not have her embalmed (this is not an option in all states). This meant a closed casket funeral, but it also saved a large expense.

    Also, our church does not charge for services, so the funeral was at the church building, rather than at the funeral home. The members of his congregation put together a wonderful luncheon for our family after the funeral at the church.

    I am also very grateful that the cemetery is nearby. I drive past it all the time. This means it is not a long drive to see her grave. I know that’s not always an option, depending on where one lives, but it is a blessing for us.

  • I just wanted to comment and say I am sorry for your loss and it sounds strikingly similar to what we experienced in October with the loss of my stepdad. He was also in declining health, diabetes and ultimately suffered complications from kidney failure. He had a little life insurance so we were fortunate the immediate expenses were covered but we’ve made sacrifices trying to help my mom. May God continue to be with you as you grieve and bless your financial perseverance.

  • angi says:

    I’m so sorry for your loss. I lost my dad suddenly 4 years ago and the circumstances you descibed are very similar to ours. One of the things it did for us was reconfirm our commitment to never be without life insurance or enough in savings so that our children don’t have to worry. We also make sure that each our children (who are old enough to understand) and a couple of siblings know where we keep all of our finacial papers and our wills.

  • Liz says:

    sorry for your loss 🙁

  • Such an important story. I’m sorry to hear of your loss. I can remember last March sitting at my father-in-laws funeral in the restroom and there be a flyer…”Have you Paid for your Funeral Yet.” It is something a lot of families don’t think about. Our family had planned ahead too knowing his health was declining. I was so glad to hear that you had family help to draw from one another. Another resource is to speak with your church pastor about what’s really needed at a funeral. I found asking for help through our church was a great sounding board.

  • ann says:

    Covering the costs of a funeral might actually be a good blog post (hint, hint). My husband and I were responsible for planning his grandmother’s funeral several years ago, and we learned several ways to cut costs. For example, she lived in a very small town where there are only two funeral homes. The one she had chosen in advance to work with priced a casket at over $5,000 (I think it was more like $7,000), and that ONLY included the casket! We spoke with someone from a town near to us and discovered that we could get a very nice casket for only a few hundred dollars. It was well worth a few phone calls to save several thousand dollars!

    • ann says:

      We also did some of the foot-work for making choices for flower arrangements and headstones, rather than going through a catalog at the funeral home to make arrangements. We explained to the florist that we wanted something nice, specifying a few colors, and gave her our floral budget for a few pieces. She told us that if we weren’t picking from the catalog, they could be very flexible and meet our small budget. The flowers were beautiful (and not skimpy), and reasonably priced too!

  • Cheryl says:

    My mom had a prepaid funeral plan. We still had to pay for some extras: printing a photo with the obituary, more words in the obituary than were allowed for free, extra letters on her gravestone.

    Our neighbors have some arrangement to donate their bodies for research. Not sure what it is, but low cost.

  • Sarah says:

    Thank you for this post. My parents are not very old, but anything is possible. They currently care for my teenaged severely disabled sibling and I’m pretty sure they have nothing planned out care if they should go. Anyone have any advice or tips on this kind of situation? TIA.

    • Amy says:

      I would say to just ask them if they have anything planned. If they don’t, ask them what they want to happen if something should happen to them. What would happen to your sibling? Who can care for them if something should happen? Do you or other family know where the important papers are? Benefits your sibling may be receiving? All of these should be discussed with your parents. It can be unpleasant, but dealing with these issues after the fact is even harder. I’m thankful my parents have never shy about talking about these issues and making plans.

  • Rose says:

    We went through this with my mother, and I swore I wouldn’t do that to my family when it’s my time to go. I got a life insurance policy that will cover a modest burial, which is all I care for. As for buying a casket online, check with your state laws before doing anything like that. Some states require you to buy through a funeral home or crematorium (thanks to the funeral directors’ lobbying efforts). And yes, in some states, you are required to buy a coffin even if you’re cremated. One thing you might consider is donating a loved one’s body to science. We had a cousin who died a few years ago. He had no immediate family other than a brother who couldn’t afford to help. We contacted the local medical center to see if we could donate his body to their anatomy class. The med center rep said they would keep his body for a year then cremate it and return his ashes to us. We then took the ashes and scattered them over his parents’ graves.

  • rob says:

    I’m so sorry for you loss, thank you for this information.

    I’m curious, for those that have dealt with funeral expenses; how do the costs typically breakdown? I’m very curious where the greatest expenses lie. Is it the casket, the burial plot, flowers, embalming, the funeral itself etc. Genuinely curious and wondering if there are things that can be taken care before we die…ie purchase a burial lot before hand etc. thank you

    • Louise says:

      My mother-in-law’s plot was already bought, but the funeral (everything) cost around $10,000. I think there was another funeral home that probably had cheaper funerals though. Also, the (flat) headstone was not included in this.

    • Lisa Park says:

      Here’s a general breakdown of the funeral for us:
      – About $2,000 for the funeral home to take care of and transport the body and help with the funeral
      – About $1,000 for a casket (we chose the least expensive one), and another $1,000 for a vault (which is required where we live)
      – About $2,000 for the burial plot and the burial (every city’s prices are different)
      – And then there were other smaller items like flowers, programs for the funeral, a grave marker, etc. that we took care of.

      Keep in mind that we tried to do the funeral inexpensively, and prices can be different in each state and with each funeral home. You can definitely take care of the burial lot right now. I hope this helps out.

  • I’m sorry to hear about your loss. I pray comfort for you and your family during this time.

  • Katie D. says:

    I agree that a funeral costs post would be helpful.

    My husband and I were just discussing what we’ll do when my dad passes. My parent’s are divorced and my dad is very mentally ill. He lives disability check to disability check and spends every penny he has. He rents and has a beater truck. We are starting to put away a little bit of money now, because we have a feeling we’ll be responsible for the costs associated with his passing.

  • Laurie says:

    I am not sure if each state has this,but we have an Arbor Society here in Omaha,NE. It is associated with Arbor Day and for each deceased person the foundation will plant a tree in memory of your loved one. It is cheap to cremate at $1,000 total. There are also other plans which are inexpensive to bury and have a service.. I only know about this b/c I was a hospice nurse and many of our families used this service. The other thing to know is that each funeral home varies widely in cost also.

  • Ashley P says:

    One of the best things you can do, besides having life insurance, is to pre-pay for your funeral now.

    When my grandfather died, my grandmother contacted the local funeral home to have him cremated. During the process, she decided to buy a cremation for herself. She made monthly payments for a few years until it was paid off. It was a great decision on her part, because 3 years later she was diagnosed with Paget’s disease, a type of breast cancer. She lived another 3 years before finally passing away. I had so much to do since I was her primary caregiver. But it’s nice to know that her arrangements were already taken care of. My job simply became alerting the family and filling out the social security and insurance paperwork and planning the memorial service at our church.

    I know it sounds morbid planning your own funeral. But it might be one of the best decisions you make, financially.

  • Leanne says:

    My family found out after my grandpa’s passing last fall that the saying “everything is negotiable” applied at that particular funeral home. I believe at the end of the meeting with the director something along the lines of “what’s the best you can do for us” was used. And a few hundred dollars was knocked off. Not always a time one might feel like negotiating, but it is a business, after all. And certain places *may* take advantage of grieving families. I don’t want to put a bad spin on anything/anyone. Just saying it doesn’t hurt to ask for a discount.

    • crenee says:

      I think you do bring up a valid point. We have had several family members pass on in both my husband’s family and my own. We found that once “life insurance” was mentioned, the prices increased, and “no life insurance”, we were given a dramatic price drop. I’m not saying its right or wrong, but funeral homes will work with you if you inform them that your paying out of pocket. My husband’s grandmother passed on about 10 years ago, she had a very small life insurance, barely enough to pay for half of the costs. Even with contributions, my in-laws did not have enough to buy a headstone. So about a year or so later, we offered to buy it with my husband’s first bonus (we were just starting out) and we ended up checking prices with the competitor of that particular funeral home (our families live in a very small town, not many funeral homes in nearby towns) and we paid about $200 dollars less.

  • Christine M says:

    My Mother in Law passed away 3 years ago and had life insurance. BUT she hadn’t made payments for 2 months on it so while she was in hospice we rushed 2 checks off to the insurance company. Thank the Lord it arrived on time and they payed for her funeral. She had also prepayed for all her funeral expenses BUT had withdrawn the money like a year after. If you are going to prepay for your services never take the money back and make sure you are up to date on your insurance policy payments.

  • Jessica Valentino says:

    A few years ago my MIY passed away and also had no life insurance. My husband’s brother was in a bad place financially and while we were a young family with a small salary it soon became clear we would be making arrangements and paying out of our emergency fund. My husband felt burial would have been important to his mom, but we needed to find an inexpensive option. We decided to do a direct burial, where the body is not embalmed, and the casket is not displayed, open or closed at the funeral. The funeral home was responsible for picking up the body, arranging it in the casket, and burying it at the plot we had purchased. It was much less expensive and the funeral director even lowered his fee a little because we explained our situation (which showed the value of calling around). The direct burial also saved us because we could choose the least expensive casket, which would not be seen by anyone but the funeral director.

    We had a memorial service at a church building which was free and had lots of pictures on display. There was special music and several people spoke about her. Many people said they loved it and would love to have a service just like that, without the body present, where they could be remembered as they were alive. A few close family members and friends traveled to the grave afterwards to pray and pay our respects there. Several family members did make contributions which reduced our load, but we still were gratefulvwe had that emergency fund . Total costs, including burial plot, funeral costs, flowers, casket, obituary, etc.. came to about $5000. After donations we paid about 3000 ourselves.

  • Jolene says:

    I have been in the funeral industry for a very long time and still see so many people struggle with the financial burden coupled with the emotional toll a loved one’s passing has on families. There are so many ways to reduce the cost of a funeral but this article shows the importance of the whole family helping out.

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