Affordable funerals: Peace of mind during a trying time

The death of a loved one can be shocking, but often families are doubly shocked when they get the final bill for the remembrance service.

In the Northwest, more funeral operators are offering non-traditional options that can save families money, yet still provide a dignified service.

When Mari Brown's mother suddenly passed away, she faced financial ruin to give her mother the burial she wanted.

"I was just beside myself," she said, "I actually started to have some anxiety in the car."

With the downturn in the economy, more and more families are trying to cut costs when it comes to funeral services.

" To us, the important factor is can we make the consumer comfortable, "Randy Tjaden of Cascade Funeral Directors said. He owns seven "alternative" funeral businesses.

One in Milwaukie sits next door to a body piercing and nail salon. Another in Tualatin is in an industrial park.

"We do not operate out of large expensive funeral home buildings," Tjaden noted. "We operate out of more conservative facilities."

The alternative type of business model is growing, primarily because the northwest is less traditional than other parts of the country.

Folks don't necessary want or need a typical funeral home for a memorial service. Many families are opting for a church, public building or home service.

The savings can be substantial. A traditional funeral at a traditional funeral home not including a casket, vault or plot runs about $4,000.

At a non-traditional funeral business which has less overhead, it runs about $1,475.

For an even bigger savings, there is cremation.

Statistics show that 67 percent of people in Oregon and Washington choose cremation over burial, a ranking of third and fourth highest rates for cremation in the U.S.

Tjaden operates its own crematories on site at Crown Memorial Services. A cremation with no memorial service runs $495.

"I think that families are actually choosing cremation that would have perhaps chosen burial if the cost were not prohibitive," Tjaden said.

It is a decision best made before your family really needs to know.

Another way people can save on death expenses is by pre-paying for their arrangements. However, if you're dealing with an unscrupulous business it can be risky.

You should make sure that your investment is protected by researching the service provider thoroughly and making sure any needed legal paperwork is completed. Use the links below for more information.

Prepaying for funeral arrangements in Washington

Prepaying for funeral arrangements in Oregon (PDF)

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