When Jennifer Hoel of Tulsa lost her father to cancer last month, his quick demise surprised her family, who expected him to live months longer with treatments.
Consequently, Hoel couldn't convince her mother to make funeral arrangements until the day before his death. And they went only to the funeral home and adjacent cemetery nearest her parent's home in Broken Arrow.
“They said things like: ‘We can give you this discount today, but not tomorrow,'” Hoel said. “Everyone knows that's the biggest B.S. line in sales,” she said. “We would have walked away, if not for the emotional state of mom. She was in the mindset of just getting it done and over with.”
The whole thing, Hoel said, cost about $15,000, including roughly $6,900 for the service, $3,900 for a stackable spousal plot and $2,500 for a head stone she guesses they could have bought for half the price somewhere else.
Among other tips, Hoel advises her friends facing funerals to shop multiple sources, have an idea of what they want before they visit and, most importantly, “Don't let funeral homes know you're close to needing their services or they'll take advantage of that.”
Median costs of funerals in Oklahoma run much lower than what Hoel's family spent, according to the latest data available from the National Funeral Directors Association. In 2009, the median cost was $6,300 — $7,395 including a cemetery vault, up from $5,273 and $6,184 in 2004. Last year's costs are expected to be released next month, spokeswoman Jessica Koth said.
About the options
Still, in today's economy in which baby boomers and others have taken hits to their retirement and other accounts, more and more families are seeking affordable funeral options, say Oklahoma observers. Those include cremation, green burials and pre-funding their funerals to lock in today's lower rates.
Ray Buchanan of Buchanan Funeral Service in northwest Oklahoma City said about 37 percent of families today opt for cremation — up from 12 percent in the early '90s.
“Twenty years ago, they'd say ‘Just put me in an old, pine box,'” Buchanan said. Now, they request cremation, which he said costs $800 to $1,800, depending upon whether there's a memorial service.
Buchanan urges people to make funeral arrangements now for themselves and loved ones.
“The idea is to pay for it in 2011 and not use it until 2040,” he said. “You'll not only make it easier on your family, by not forcing them to make those decisions, but you also can lock in prices before they go up.”
Families, he said, can preplan only or prefund by making monthly payments of as little as $50, or through life insurance policies, regulated by the state insurance commission.
Buchanan's business is an independent funeral home. Many of the others across Oklahoma — particularly the larger ones in Oklahoma City and Tulsa — are owned by public companies, like Houston-based Service Corp. International, which operates 14 in Oklahoma.
SCI spokeswoman Jessica McDunn said the company doesn't share prices, because they vary based on location and size of funeral. But as a larger company, McDunn said, SCI offers added services such as round-the-clock grief counseling, help with obtaining lower airfares and easier transferable arrangements if, for example, a family prefunds a service in Oklahoma City and then moves to Tucson.
What does it cost?
Conversely, degreed mortician Debra House last year leased 2,000 square feet in a strip mall at 7721 NW 10 to offer basic funeral services at the lowest prices available.
“People are devastated enough when a loved one dies,” House said. “They don't need to be financially devastated.”
House's Absolute Economical Funeral Home offers removal, embalming and a steel casket for $2,554; cremation through an off-site crematory for $795, including removal and permit fees; and monuments starting at $200 and up.
House said she could accommodate a 30-person memorial service, but so far they've been held at area churches.
Most traditional funerals also involve making separate purchases at a cemetery, which at Resurrection Memorial Cemetery in Oklahoma City costs $1,540 per single plot; $2,090 per double; $650 for a concrete box and $1,200 for opening and closing, general manager Christina Ford said.
Monument fees, which Resurrection doesn't share publicly, include setting and lifelong maintenance fees, she said.
Depending on sizes, those run $47 to $156 and $124 to $408, respectively, for markers bought elsewhere, she said.
Resurrection, which is owned by the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City but serves all faiths, also has a columbarium where double niches cost $2,794 to $3,900, Ford said. Urns are $75 to $400, or as low as $15 for a plastic box.
“To me, it's well worth it to give memorial, names and dates to your loved ones, and have a place of rest and peace to go to find them,” Ford said.
Specializing in green burials, the newly-opened Green Haven Cemetery west of Stillwater offers families a compromise between traditional funerals and cremation, said Bill Bernhardt, owner and retired funeral home director. The three-acre natural meadow environment gives people a place they can be buried unembalmed, or embalmed, in a favorite comforter or biodegradable shroud in unmarked graves.
The lots, which aren't sold in advance of need, cost $600 plus $425 for opening and closing. A soon-to-be installed monolith from Granite will give families the option of inscribing their loved ones' names, and birth and death dates for $300.
So far, the cemetery holds two people, who before dying chose Green Haven, Bernhardt said. Many advocates of green burial, he said, believe they're returning their bodies to the earth to which it belongs. Others oppose cremation because it involves burning fossil fuels.
“Here, it's a little like scattering ashes atop a mountain,” Bernhardt said.
“You can't go to the exact spot where your loved one is buried, but you can come to the place.”
At a glance
• Burial in national cemeteries including Ft. Sill and Ft. Gibson in Oklahoma. All cemetery costs, including markers, are free for qualifying servicemen and women, their spouses and minor or disabled adult children.
• Donating your body for teaching purposes. OU Health Sciences Center and the College of Osteopathic Medicine at Oklahoma State University have programs in which people can preregister. If accepted, they'll cover embalming costs and, after about two years, cremate the bodies and return ashes to their families.
• Buying caskets online — Casket retailers include Walmart.com and Costco.com. Be sure to consider shipping charges and the risk of damage.