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How to plan a meaningful funeral without overspending

Alyssa Pry
Personal Finance Reporter

Caleb Wilde considers himself a “thoroughbred” when it comes to the funeral home business. Wilde is a sixth-generation funeral home director on his father’s side, and has four generations of funeral directors on his mother’s side. The business has always been part of his life.

As a child, “we played hide and go seek in caskets,” Wilde says. “I’d go over for Thanksgiving dinner and in the one room we’d be eating turkey and the room next to us would be a dead body that had been laid out for a funeral, so it was just a part of life.”

While Wilde was initially resistant to the idea of taking over the family business, he now works with his grandfather, father and cousin at their funeral home in Parkseburg, Pa., where they serve 270  families per year. He recently published a book,Confessions of a Funeral Directorand writes a blog about his experiences in the industry.

While it’s challenging to help his clients deal with a difficult time, it’s kept Wilde focused on the importance of his role.

“I love to be able to talk about these incredibly sensitive and vulnerable things with people who are grieving and to help them,” he says. “There’s the reward of being able to serve them and be a part of the positive journey towards remembering their loved ones.”

However, Wilde is well aware of the stereotypes that plague his profession.

“The stereotypes that exist about funeral directors unfortunately are true,” he says. “It’s like any business where there are bad apples, but when that bad apple is a funeral director, it’s just a whole lot worse.”

Wilde says it’s common practice for funeral home directors to up-sell caskets or push services that aren’t necessary.

“We often assume the better we buy, the more we love somebody, and funeral directors can play on that,” he says. “If our main objective is to look for ways to exploit people in their grief,  which happens all too often, we will dig our own grave.”

The cost of a funeral can range widely, from $5,000 to up to $50,000, depending on where you live and the services you request, Wilde says. In order to make sure you’re not getting ripped off, Wilde encourages people to plan their funeral in advance. While it may seem morbid to think about, preplanning will help you and your family members make decisions that fit what you want and can actually afford.

He encourages people to comparison shop for services and call funeral homes and get an idea of the cost of their services. Ask for the general price list, which funeral homes are legally required to have. Then, meet with a funeral director and plan the details. Wilde says his funeral home has 4,000 preplanned funeral on the books.

The bottom line: if you feel pressured to purchase things you don’t want, or feel like the funeral director is not trustworthy, leave.

“You don’t want a funeral director who’s looking to take advantage of you—you want somebody that you can trust and somebody that you know is looking out for your best interest,” Wilde says.

He says while it’s become common to be wary of the funeral industry, it’s important to approach the process in a thoughtful way, even if that entails spending money.

“We know to be skeptical of the funeral business and so what we’ve done is we’ve tried to find the least expensive path, which is fine,” Wilde says. “But be willing to spend money – and you don’t have to spend money at the funeral home.”

Planning a luncheon or a memorial for your loved one that honors their life can help you begin the remembering process, he says.  

“Funerals are incredibly important, because they’re the starting point for embracing the memory of our loved one,” he says.

This story was originally published on December 7. 

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