Death On A Dime: Cheaper options for burying loved ones

Dust to Dust Green Burial
Dust to Dust Green Burial

By Brandi Cummings - bio | email

SWANSEA, SC (WIS) - As the saying goes, you're guaranteed two things in life -- death and taxes. The death of a loved one is something many of us don't like to talk about, but the cost of burying that person -- is enough to get the discussion going. Funeral costs can be out of sight, but there are some more affordable yet dignified options for that final goodbye.

When you think of a funeral, many people think about the casket, the church service and grave burial. But there are many other choices, especially if you're looking to reduce costs.

It is an inevitable part of life. "It's something we simply don't like to talk about," said Overton Ganong of the Funeral Consumers Alliance of South Carolina.

Dealing with death is hard. Not planning for it makes it worse. "It was such a whirlwind event, it was really kind of just numbing," said Tammy Chapman.    

Cancer took Chapman's father Julian, and she was responsible for the funeral. He owned a burial plot, but didn't have life insurance. That left Tammy with few options. "When he passed unexpectedly like that, we had literally just enough money to bury him," said Chapman.

Tammy's situation is all too familiar to the Funeral Consumers Alliance. "We see a lot of times families getting into real disagreements at the time of the death when there has been no conversation around these issues," said Ganong.

Ganong says families should talk about what they want. Tight budgets make that conversation crucial. "Funerals are not inexpensive," said Greg Dunbar, who manages a funeral home in Columbia.
He says the average cost for a traditional funeral is $8,000. That includes everything from embalming to flowers.
According to a price survey done by the FCASC, the average price of embalming in the Midlands is $613. But most steps of a traditional funeral are optional. For instance, there's no need to embalm if there's no viewing or open casket. Another traditional funeral option is caskets. Prices range from $1,000 to $10,000. "A casket is certainly a profit center for a funeral home," said Ganong.

You could always shop around. We found caskets for sale online at Costco and Wal-mart. Just have it shipped to the funeral home, and legally they can't turn it away.

The vault is another way to save. One Midlands funeral home charges $30,000. Ganong says it's cosmetic. "Regardless of whether the body is embalmed, regardless of whether it's in a casket or in a vault, the body will eventually decay," said Ganong.

A traditional funeral is still the most common, but you do have options. "It's a cleaner, faster way of doing in a few hours, what mother nature does in many years," said Ray Visotski, who owns the SC Cremation and Burial Society in Graniteville.
He says a simple cremation there costs $1,595 dollars, a fraction of the traditional route. That includes everything from cremation to returning the ashes.
Ray says he did well in the recession, with people looking to no break the bank. "It's not always the first choice, but sometimes they just don't have that choice," said Visotski.

But there is a less expensive and more earth friendly option. "It's every bit as respectful and professional as what you're going to find anywhere else," said Michael Bishop. "It's just not as wasteful."

Last year, Bishop started a green cemetery in Swansea. He got the idea after seeing a bad car crash on the way home from work. "That night I started thinking about it and making calls, then I realized just how expensive a cemetery plot was and I said 'well, I just want to be buried on my farm," he said.
He showed us the two acres of family land where right now, only three rest. Michael doesn't handle funerals, only burial. No embalming, no fancy headstones. The total cost is $1,000.

"You're protecting land, you're just going back to earth naturally, which you're going to do at some point anyway, just much quicker my way," said Bishop. "And you're not putting anything dangerous into the ground."

Michael's business is the second green burial site in the state. The first in the country started in Westminster, South Carolina, but the idea is a "throwback." "In the 19th century, the 18th century, people were usually buried wither in plain wooden boxes or in shrouds," said Ganong.
Time has brought change, and every year you can expect to see prices change too. "The funeral homes are pretty much at liberty to set their prices as they see fit and to adjust them to what they consider their clientele would be willing to pay," said Ganong.

For Tammy Chapman, paying expensive funeral costs wasn't an option, so she chose to bury her dad here on Michael's farm. "I know that the fact that he was buried in his wishes, that in and of itself is, I took care of what he desired," said Chapman.

Of all the people we spoke with for this story, all agree that it's important to get the conversation started when it comes to final expenses, burial options, and even life insurance.

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