When I was on vacation in Shepherdstown, WV, I was introduced to an archaic secret society called the Independent Order of the Odd Fellows. The legend says they received their name from the locals who called them “odd” for wanting to help the poor. The Odd Fellows oath was as follows: “Visit the sick, relieve the distressed, bury the dead and educate the orphan.”
As a future mortuary student, I was immediately attracted to this motto. So, in turn, I decided to set out to find newer organizations that could help families if they lost a loved one tomorrow.
Now, since it’s 2017 and death is very much a “for-profit” business, I found next to nothing. As a young adult interested in pursuing the mortician profession, I understand the need to make money and be paid for the work you do. However, I don’t agree you should have to put yourself into debt or take out a loan to give your loved ones an proper burial. Take me, for example: I am a young, single, Caucasian female who is a full-time student and part-time worker with about $50 to her name at any given time. If either or both of my parents were to die tomorrow, I would be screwed.
When you search online for this topic, you basically just get websites telling you, “It’s your responsibility to ensure you arrange a funeral within your budget limitations.” But, the average American funeral is $6,000 (gasp). These are the five actually-helpful tips I found while searching around. A lot of these are more preventative, but that’s because I know firsthand how hard it is to get help after the death of a loved one.
(Let me preface this by stating that, if you have come to this article in need of help after the death of a loved one, I extend my sincerest condolences. I hope this helps as much as possible.)
Tip 1: Ask
Okay, this is a general statement, and I get the eye-rolling you’re probably doing right now, but hear me out. Granted, if you open those conversation with your loved ones by saying, “Hey, have you thought about what you want done with your body after you die?,” you will probably get looked at like you just grew another head.
Most adults, especially the older ones, do not want to talk about death. Many people around us strive to save money for trips, emergency funds, and retirement, but oddly not end of life. So, by starting these conversations, you can help them figure out what they want, and by knowing what they want, you can help yourself.
It may be difficult, but talking to local funeral homes and asking about things like pre-planning for the funeral you want can seriously help your family when you pass. Not only will everything you want be laid out, but it will be already paid for, so your family does not have the financial burden of paying for you to be put to rest.
Tip 2: Know Your State’s Laws
There are many reasons knowing your state laws will help you. The state of Illinois has a government assistance program, where you can be awarded up to S1,100 for burial and $500 for cremation.
Noting these options or potentially donating your or a loved one’s body to science (with permission) is a great choice. I live in Tennessee, and at one of our universities, we have a special forensics program called the Body Farm. Now, before the clouds roll in and the organ starts to play, let me elaborate. The Body farm is a specific location on the university grounds where bodies are exposed to all kinds of tests and elements to see how they decompose. This study is important, because it trains police and forensic personnel to tell what happened to a deceased person to help solve their death, and know if foul play was involved.
Knowing your state’s burial and death laws is also important in the preplanning step. If your grandfather wants to be buried on his 20 acre farm or your mother wants her ashes spread in her favorite park, it’s a good thing to know if it’s legal or not before she’s cremated.
Tip 3: Budget a Little Extra
Chances are, neither you nor will your loved ones die any time soon. So setting aside a little extra money every month for the next 30 years will be sufficient. Putting aside a little extra every month will not only give you peace of mind, but your family as well. Knowing you have that extra cushion put away in some sort of savings will definitely help you sleep at night.
Concurrently, looking into the life insurance policies for yourself (and potentially your spouse) is quick and easy. I personally took an online quiz and a five-minute phone call to be matched with a program for $100,000 to be paid out to my parents upon my death. My quote as a single, part-time worker, full-time student, making less than $12,000 a year was $30 a month for 30 years. How easy is that?
Granted, with life insurance possibilities, there are more risks and hoops than just saving on your own, but they also can offer greater rewards. If you have $100,000 opposed to $10,000, you can do more for your loved ones than just pay for a funeral, such as pay off debts and medical bills that may have occurred after your death.
Tip 4: Be Specific
This tip is all about palliative care and after-death key terms to search for to find help. When it comes to searching for grants, programs, and foundations, being a specific as possible will really help you narrow the search.
For example, the Sinai Memorial Chapel is a funeral and burial service for the Jewish religion that will not turn you away for an inability to pay. They can also help your loved ones be buried in Israel. Organizations like Childs Care and The Tears Foundation are for children from 20 weeks gestation to 16 years old, to help pay for their funerals and memorials. National Urban League can help the African American community with their expenses. All honorably discharged and active veterans have many options available to them, the most affordable being a free funeral service and burial in the national veteran’s cemetery.
Look into everything from race, religion, age, employment, diseases, anything you can think of. If your loved one was of or close to retirement age, all states can award $250 for burial expenses from Social Security, and you may even be eligible to take over their monthly checks to help ease the process of making arrangements.
Tip 5: Be Odd
A big part of the reason that there aren’t an abundance of funds to help people is because no one is giving. So, don’t be afraid to be that person. Go to that random funeral home, and help someone pay for something. If you have a floral arrangement service, if you’re a chef, if you’re a freelance writer, if you’re a counselor, consider offering your services for free. There are very many ways to help out without using money that will save the family money. If you give your time and services, people may give back to you when you need it.
Olivia Watts is a future death professional who explores the financial side of death.
Image via Unsplash