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Caskets—how to save on them

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Note—Retail casket stores come and go so frequently we’re no longer listing them individually as the information is often out of date quickly. If you’re looking for a retail casket business, a local artisan who makes caskets, or a specialty type of casket not available from your funeral home, your best bet is to do a Google search for terms such as your state/region, caskets, retail, casket stores, etc. 

Why do Americans tend to spend so much on a casket? Well, you might want a grand display for a day or so. Some are even “more comfortable”—with an innerspring mattress and adjustable head-rest. More likely, however, low-cost caskets simply aren’t on display. As one reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times found out when the funeral shopper she accompanied asked if there wasn’t something less expensive than the $2,000+ casket on display: “They led us to a hall on the way to the boiler room.” Another woman was taken to a basement full of cobwebs. And another was subjected to the icy sneer: “Oh . . . you want the welfare casket?”

Misleading product claims can prod you to spend more, too. So-called “protective” caskets (caskets with a rubber gasket) are supposed to seal, thereby “protecting” the body from “outside elements.” This costs. The rubber gasket used to construct a “sealer” casket costs the industry $8. But that $8 gasket is likely to raise the cost of the casket by $800 or more! And what happens to a body in a “sealed” casket? Instead of the natural dehydration that occurs in most climates, anaerobic bacteria take over and the body putrifies—as any grave-digger can attest after an exhumation. (You might want to read “Bones, Bugs, & Batesville” and one woman’s fight against consumer fraud.)

NOTE!—There is a great deal of misinformation about the legality of selling caskets to consumers when the seller is not a funeral home, but just a retail store. As of 2014, the only state we know that’s actively barring retail-only casket sales is Oklahoma. If someone (or an article, or a website) claims to you that your state makes it illegal to sell a casket, insist that they produce this law so you can examine it. It’s nearly always a misunderstanding.

For many years, the industry practice was to wrap the cost of the funeral service into the sale price of caskets—with a mark-up of 300-500-700% or more. Caskets are often still substantially marked up but funeral services are now billed separately. Important! – If your goal is to save money on a funeral, it’s not enough to just find a cheaper casket. You also have to shop around among funeral homes to find reasonable service fees. Many funeral homes have lowered their casket prices to compete with casket retailers, but they’ve simply raised the prices on their services to compensate in an attempt to make sure you spend just as much. So, don’t stop at finding a good price on a casket, shop around and compare funeral home service prices too.

WHAT ARE THE ALTERNATIVES TO AN EXPENSIVE CASKET?

Be prepared for some resentment from the mortician at losing a big slice of the funeral profit if you obtain a casket elsewhere—your right to do so is protected by federal law. There may be snide remarks about the “poor quality” of what you’ve purchased. If the bottom doesn’t fall out, the “quality” of what you are about to bury in the ground or deliver to a crematory may be irrelevant. On the other hand, some of the hand-made or small-production caskets available may be far superior in quality to something from an automated souped-up assembly line. Note: The funeral home may NOT add a “handling fee” if you purchase a casket on your own.

Funeral Consumers Alliance recommends that you NOT prepay for a casket unless you are taking it home to store (a blanket chest or coffee table perhaps?).

It’s important to remember that the cost of the casket is only one part of the overall bill. And often, it’s not the largest component of a funeral bill the way it used to be — at many funeral homes the largest single item is the “basic services fee” they charge all customers. Bottom – line: getting a less expensive casket from a retailer will not *guarantee* that you save money overall. You also have to compare service fees among funeral homes, too, and factor that in.

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