To provide a prospective of the cost on one’s final arrangements, consumer groups advise the public that the cost of a funeral could be the third most expensive purchase made during their lifetime (behind the purchases of a house and a car). In doing so, the consumer group often sites the average funeral cost figures provided by funeral trade organizations. These averages typically do not include the costs associated with purchasing burial spaces, monuments and burial services. Because cemeteries are not subject to the FTC’s Funeral Rule, there are no general price lists from which to gather information for cost comparisons.

For year 2009, the NFDA reported the average cost of a funeral (with a vault) to be $7,755. If the funeral costs have tracked the national cost of living increases, the 2011 average cost should be close to $8000. The traditional funeral and burial is not complete without the burial space, a marker and interment services. A Google search for average burial costs doesn’t produce many ‘current’ hits.  One of those Google hits is a 2005 Forbes article, that reported the average burial space cost to be $4,000.

Burial spaces can vary greatly in cost depending on the type of cemetery and the type of burial space. Municipal cemeteries will have some of the lower prices (courtesy of the tax subsidies), and religious cemeteries tend to have some of the higher prices. Prices vary greatly depending on whether the interment is to be made in a ground space, a companion space, a lawn crypt or a mausoleum.

The Forbes $4,000 burial space price seems a bit high, and for the purposes of this article, we will assume the cost of companion spaces to be $4,000 (a family’s first funeral purchase is typically for dad, and spaces are purchased as companions so mom can be assured to have her place next to dad).

Many cemeteries require endowed care contributions that often are in addition to the cost of the burial spaces, so assume an endowed care contribution of 15% or $600.

The cemetery will also charge for the services of opening the grave, installing the vault, and then closing the grave when the interment is completed. It is not uncommon for an opening and closing to cost $1,500 to $2,000.

And there is the cost of the marker or monument. Assume a granite companion upright monument is chosen. The averages differ, but a cost of $2000 is quite reasonable.

For the average family, the surviving wife faces an ‘average’ cost of $16,000 when her husband dies. When one scans the automotive ads, you will find at least a few new car models that cost less than a funeral and burial. The ad I’m reviewing also offers financing for 72 months. In contrast, funeral homes and cemeteries expect payment in full within weeks of providing their property, goods and services.

Even when insurance proceeds will be available to pay the funeral and burial, it may be months before proceeds are received. If there is no life insurance, the cost may be too high to use a credit card. While the family may prefer the traditional funeral and burial, the cost, and its immediate payment, can be too high.

For those families that do not choose cremation, the lack of flexible financing is leading to increasing receivable issues for death care operators. Trade magazines are reporting that the receivables carried by operators are growing in terms of amount and defaults. So, even when the family opts for the traditional funeral and burial, the operator is seeing an increasing number of those families failing to pay.

The historic advice has been to get as large a down payment as possible, and then stay diligent on follow-ups with the family for payment. Death care operators are now being advised to help the family not reach beyond their means. Apparently, this is still not enough. It is time for the death care industry to consider installment payments (and, not only in terms of at-need services).