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Funeral options weigh price, fitting tributes

In today's economy, more and more families are seeking affordable funeral options. Those include cremation, green burials and prefunding their funerals to lock in today's lower rates.
BY PAULA BURKES Published: September 18, 2011

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.

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At a glance

Other alternatives

• 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 and Be sure to consider shipping charges and the risk of damage.


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