No Frills Wills & Costco Coffins; 10 Tips To Make Your Dirt Nap Dirt Cheap

27 Oct

ImageIt’s Halloween, that time of year when we celebrate all things dead, but when it comes to planning our own final exit we turn into complete scaredy cats. Most of us leave it to a surviving relative and hope there’s enough insurance money to cover it; but is that really fair? During the recent economic downturn many people who had life insurance polices had to cash them in because they could not afford their premium or needed the money to keep the family out of the homeless shelter.

Another factor fueling this change is the Green Funeral Movement; after all, it does not make sense for someone who has been eco-friendly and thrifty in life to spend an obscene amount of money on a funeral including pumping the body full of toxins then dumping it into Mother Earth. Most of these alternative practices also allow for a more intimate experience of the persons passing and a true celebration of their life.

For the best FREE resources for understanding all your options from A-Z as well as the legalities, I highly recommended The Funeral Site and Final Passages.They also have some really creative ideas for customizing your passing, whether you want to be buried at sea or go out with a bang as part of a fireworks display…seriously!

Here are 10 great money saving ideas for your final exit strategy:

  1. No-frills wills. My relatives are notorious for not having wills and it always ends in the deceased wishes not being followed, one relative absconding with the valuables, and another getting stuck with the bills. Wills are great insurance against a family style Michael Vick dogfight. Free legal forms are available online,many courtesy of your local library. You can get it notarized for free at your bank. There are also online services that will run you about $20 for a simple will.
  2. Preplan, not prepay. When you do your research and plan well in advance you make better choices and save money. Don’t tie your money up prepaying funeral expenses, but do preplan and make sure you share your written plans with responsible family members or friends. Shop around and ask funeral homes for their itemized price list to better understand mandatory and optional services, making sure you understand hidden costs. This will give you’re a roadmap for how to plan your funeral, even if you decide not to involve a funeral home in the process. The only exception to the prepay rule is if it is part of a Medicare spend down since it is exempt as an asset.
  3. Funding the funeral. While life insurance and Social Security benefits are the most obvious, remember to explore any organizations, clubs or employers you have been involved with over your lifetime, such as Veteran benefits, trade union benefits, employer benefits, and fraternal or social organizations benefits. Depending on the manor of death, you may get funds from home, auto or travel insurance, even credit cards!
  4. Viewing & services. Home funerals are becoming very popular again. When my grandfather died, he was laid out in a casket in the living room allowing our family to have the viewing, wake and post-funeral potluck reception all at the house. Embalming is not required by law especially if the body is buried within 48 hours, but it helps to crank up the A/C where the body is kept. The undertaker was only involved in transporting the body to the church and cemetery. Many churches also provide one-stop shopping for viewing, services and reception for a nominal fee to members.
  5. Alternatives to burial. By forgoing a traditional burial, you can usually save at least $7,000, by eliminating the need for embalming, casket, transportation, burial plot and headstone. You can save all funeral expenses by simply donating your body to science and your family can still receive your cremated remains free of charge; contact your local medical college for details. Most states, with the exception of California, permit burial at sea. Cremation is the most popular alternative, but unfortunately pyres, including Viking Funerals, are illegal in the US due to the lower incineration temperature.
  6. Green burial. As previously stated, embalming is not required by law, neither are caskets or vaults/grave liners. Green caskets can be cardboard, wicker, wood or other biodegradable materials for a fraction of the cost. You can skip the casket altogether and opt solely for a shroud. Although the law does not require vaults for ground burial, your cemetery might, so check your contract. While there is no federal or state law prohibiting burial on private property, aka your backyard, nearly every local government has ordinances prohibiting it.
  7. Casket costs. Buying a casket has never been easier and most include free shipping; Costco, Wal-Mart, eBay, and Overstock.com, just to name a few. Same is true of grave markers and other funeral supplies. Don’t forget to use the promo code for additional discounts like I taught you in my  15 Tips For Shopping Savings Success” post. If you are opting for cremation, you can simply rent for the viewing. Since there are no laws governing caskets, you can build your own any way your want for a fraction of the cost. You can also put more than one person in a casket, even if they did not die at the same time. In my family, young children and babies are often added to the buried casket of a previously deceased family member.
  8. Plot savings. With people needing money due to the economic downturn and families becoming more transient, you can save a bundle by buying an unused plot from the owner on Criagslist or eBay rather than from the cemetery. Suburban cemeteries cost less than urban areas, since after all, it is real estate. My family has at least two caskets stacked in each grave since our cemetery does not expressly prohibit it.
  9. Omit the obit. Unless you live in a small town and it’s always a slow news day, you will have to pay for an obituary in the newspaper; usually $100 per inch and $100 for a tiny photo. You can eliminate the cost by approaching the paper to run it as a human interest story, especially if you are planning something alternative. Another option is to use free social media including setting up a Facebook page where mourners can be contacted, get updates, and post tributes.
  10. Other savings ideas. Have a friend drive the family to the cemetery rather than rent a limousine and decline the traffic escort. Have a potluck style reception including donation of dinnerware and utensils. Ask musician friends to provide the music. Bury the deceased in their favorite clothing, not new expensive clothes.

Just because you spent a fortune on a funeral doesn’t mean you were loved most, it just means you overpaid. So before you go on permanent vacation, take the time to plan your bon voyage party.

Good news readers, you can now follow me on Facebook! Simply visit Real Penny Wise and click LIKE. Be sure to SHARE with your friends too.

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2 Responses to “No Frills Wills & Costco Coffins; 10 Tips To Make Your Dirt Nap Dirt Cheap”

  1. 1000thriftythings January 9, 2013 at 8:59 pm #

    I can’t stand the thought of being perfectly preserved underground. I’m all about tossing me into the ground in a simple box or shroud. Are there laws against putting someone in a wooden rowboat and setting it on fire as you push it out?

    • realpennywise January 29, 2013 at 4:16 am #

      Thanks for your comment, 1000thriftythings! What you are referring to is generally know as a Viking Funeral, and it is not legal in the US due to inadequate incineration temperature, however burial at sea is legal in all shore states except California. Hope that helps.

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