Avoiding higher costs: Why you need to shop now for your funeral

PORTLAND, Ore. -- You could be spending thousands of dollars more than you planned when the time comes to bury someone you love.

But the KATU Problem Solvers have an easy way for you make sure you don't end up in debt: Shop around before you need the service.

Sandy and Tom Hill are planning what will happen to their bodies after they die. They live at Willamette View Continuing Care Retirement Community in Southeast Portland. They are considering donating their bodies to science, followed by cremation.

"I really think it's your responsibility to decide what you're going to do," said Sandy Hill.

But cremation costs vary dramatically, depending on where you go.

For example, the Funeral Consumers Alliance of Oregon's most recent price comparison list shows that Oregon Cremation in Southeast Portland charges $460 for direct cremation. However, Caldwell's, Hennessey, Goetsch and McGee in Northeast Portland charges $2,940, more than six times as much.

Another example from the FCA: a traditional funeral. The price list shows that Autumn Funerals in Tigard charges $2,215 for a traditional funeral. Young's Funeral Home, also in Tigard, charges $6,660, more than three times as much.

"You can be taken advantage of," said RCA Moore, with the FCA of Oregon.

Moore says most funeral homes will not intentionally take advantage of people in times of grief. But he urges you to shop around now, before you need the services, so you and your family don't pay more than you want if someone dies.

Randy Tjaden owns Crown Memorial Centers. His prices are among the lowest in Portland.

"People shouldn't be guilted into spending more money for the same service. There's no need for it," said Tjaden. "There's no correlation between how much you love them and how much you spend."

Tjaden said mega-corporations like Service Corporation International have bought a number of local funeral homes, bringing their prices up. The two high-priced examples of cremation and traditional funeral above are both SCI homes.

Information from an organization called Everest shows prices for SCI homes in Portland are about 70 percent higher than independently owned homes.

"By asking a few questions, you can navigate your way to a business that serves the needs you need served," said Tjaden. "You don't have to feel embarrassed about it and you don't have to feel ashamed about it."

A representative for SCI in Oregon, JC Aubry, said SCI homes offer more for your money, like access to a compassion helpline and a grief management library. He said the locations may be a little larger and have more amenities, like a dining room and kitchen for catering.

"Looking at the line item is one thing, but looking at the atmosphere, the environment, and our staff, I think is where it makes a big difference," said Aubry. "It's all about the relationship we have with the families."

You can save yourself and your family time, money and anxiety by thinking about your funeral before you die. You can decide what you would like -- for example, cremation, burial, a green burial -- and then check prices and locations to see where you feel comfortable and how much you would like you or your family to pay.

Funeral homes are required by law give you a price list if you ask in person. However, the FCA does its own price comparison research and provides a list on its website.

Moore said people should think outside the box and choose their own path, showing their individuality and potentially saving money.

"You don't have to have a funeral at a funeral home, or even at your church. You can have it at your house," said Moore.

Moore has some ideas to make the process easier. He suggests avoiding the funeral home package deals, which he said may cost you more and take away your freedom of choice.

He recommended waiting until business hours to call funeral home if someone you love dies at home, for example, in a hospice situation, because you will have to pay more if you call in the middle of the night.

He said you can buy a casket from somewhere other than a funeral home and possibly save money as well.

Moore said making decisions about what is to come can help people feel more in control.

"In choosing, you feel powerful, you feel in charge," said Moore. "You feel, 'Death is not taking me. Death is at the end of life and I am going to make it work for me.' And you can save money while you do it."

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