Guilt and funeral arrangements: Not a bargain

A friend from college shared a funny picture from his calendar. The content of the sign:

Funerals 50% Off

He asked what a half-off funeral might be. I said: “One foot in the grave.”

Then he asked me if the Mighty Bargain Hunter approves. I gave that comment a like.

As long as the bottom doesn’t fall out before the casket is lowered

Jack Nicholson’s character, Warren Schmidt, in About Schmidt, did very well financially. He was a career employee of an insurance company. At one point in the movie, he goes through the emotional wringer as he has to make decisions on burial arrangements for a loved one.

Following the funeral, a family member criticized him:

Family member: “Why did you get such a cheap casket?
Warren Schmidt: “What?!”
Family member: “I could tell you got the cheapest casket. Everybody could.”
Warren Schmidt: “Oh that is not true. That is not true. I specifically did not choose, as you say, the cheapest casket. There was one less expensive which they showed me. I refused it.”
Family member: “You mean … a pine box?”
Warren Schmidt: “I don’t remember what it was.”

I remember really being ticked at the family member as I watched that scene. I also remember cheering for Schmidt. Good for him. He didn’t let the funeral home use guilt against him to extract more money from him in his time of grief.

Being caught flat-footed when loved ones are toe-tagged

I don’t fault funeral directors for offering their services, and I’m not up for restricting how they offer them. They can only bury the person once, so they’d better capitalize on it as best as they can.

(Whether they’re right or not in closing the burial market by regulation is another matter. The lobbying for the funeral industry is strong in my state. There are restrictions on who can sell me a casket in-state.)

As with any reasonably expensive purchase — that’s part of what a funeral is, right? — it’s up to us to purchase wisely. It’s not wise to wait until the time of need to think through the mechanics of the funeral. It’s unlikely that sound financial choices will be made amidst all of the intense emotion.

Death isn’t pleasant to think about. Giving the funeral arrangements some thought while your mind is still clear, though, is wise. If your burial wishes are known, then the funeral becomes mechanical and fewer choices need to be made by loved ones immediately after you die.

A couple of other times that you’ll want to plan ahead a bit so as not to be fleeced with guilt:

  • Weddings.  Yes, I know it’s easier for men on the whole to think objectively about wedding expenses.  This is another one-time deal for everyone involved.  (At least that’s the intention; whether it ends up being a one-time deal is a coin toss statistically.)
  • Veterinarians.  Sadly, we had to put down an old friend a couple of weeks ago.  The vet told my wife that she had made a wise decision.  Other vets, though, will not say this.  They will dig in their heels about euthanizing a pet if there are ways to prolong the pet’s life either through treatments or surgery.  One might interpret it as “having a heart for animals” but it’s also hard to argue that it’s not a conflict of interest.  Deciding to put an animal down is hard, and it doesn’t help if the vet makes it harder.

Guilt is expensive if you let people manipulate it. Don’t.

John Wedding

Husband. Father. Web publisher. Musician. John has blogged at Mighty Bargain Hunter since 2005, helping people to recognize life's good deals.

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  1. Sean Flynn says

    An expensive funeral I always thought was an exercise in vanity. But whose vanity was the question. A person might go through the mental anguish to decide to get a DNR order, but after they’re dead no one would knows what they’re wishes would have been. As gruesome ad it sound out makes complete sense to research it ahead of time. Perhaps the question then becomes when do you put a casket on layaway, our when do you check out funeral directors?

    • John Wedding says

      I’ve read that choice of casket may be more for the living than the deceased. It certainly could be vanity. It also could be for reasons of dignity, comfort, solace, and remembrance. I tend to think people are driven by guilt as well. They may feel guilty for things they did (or didn’t) do while the person was alive, and try to make up for it with a nice casket or an ornate grave marker.

      As for when to start checking out the arrangements, it’s a judgment call. Too far in advance and any arrangements might be unenforceable. Too late and it’s gets hectic. Maybe a couple of years out?

  2. says

    When my Mom went into a assisted living facility, they required to take care of your funeral arrangements. It was difficult but well worth it. It saves the living from the uncomfortable necessary decisions and ensures that the individual has the arrangements they want. It saves money too.

  3. says

    I think knowing wishes in advance helps out a lot, like I know my parents wish to be cremated. Because they are divorced I will be the one to carry out my moms wishes and have her cremated with no veiwing, etc… My dads told me but we’ll see. My brother will have himself in the middle of that and he only believes in burials no matter the cost and Im sure my dad hasnt shared his wishes with anyone elsse either.

    Once it gets down to paying we’ll see who gets what done.

  4. says


    Good point regarding paying to have your pet put under. Its been my experience that most people don’t bother to work out how much pets actually cost – from feeding, accessories, grooming, additional cleaning costs, etc. etc.

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