How to Shop For a Casket

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Picking out a casket can be a confusing and overwhelming process, whether you’re planning your own funeral in advance or making arrangements after a loved one has passed. As with any major purchase, it pays to educate yourself ahead of time. Here are some important steps to take as you shop for a casket:

1. Set a budget and understand pricing

Buying a casket is an emotionally charged purchase. That can make it hard to balance your financial reality with an instinct to splurge on the “best” for your loved one. One way to lessen any potential guilt (about falling in love with a casket you can’t buy) or regret (for spending more than you can afford) is to set your ballpark budget in advance of shopping. Knowing that rough number ahead of time will make it easier to limit which caskets you consider.

It also helps to understand how casket prices work. Casket prices range from a few hundred dollars to $20,000 or more. The first factor in setting that price tag is the material. At the lower end, you can buy a simple plywood or pine casket for less than $1,000. Caskets made from hardwood, such as mahogany, walnut, and cherry, generally start at around $2,000. Simple copper caskets start at around $3,000, and bronze caskets sell for $4,000 or more. But not all metals are automatically pricier: Steel is becoming more common, and steel caskets can start around $1,000.

Material isn’t the only factor that affects price. Walk through any showroom and you’ll see caskets with ornate carvings, gold-leaf trim, padded mattresses, embroidered head panels, and other upgrades that can easily raise the casket’s cost. 

Start with the broadest considerations: Do you have a material preference? Would you prefer simplicity or are you looking for a premium model? Do you want an eco-friendly option? How important is it to you to customize the casket? It’s possible to find a bounty of choices around $2,000 or less. 

2. Consider all your shopping options

Funeral homes will have a range of caskets to choose from. But this is an area where funeral homes make their best margins, so it’s in their interest to steer you toward pricier options.

However, the funeral home isn’t your only option for casket shopping. As part of the Federal Trade Commission’s “funeral rule,” you can source anything you need, including a casket, from other sellers. The funeral home is not allowed to charge you a handling fee if you buy a casket elsewhere. These days, Walmart, Costco, and Amazon all sell caskets. You can even buy a casket on Etsy. And some of the brands you’ll find at online retailers are the exact same ones seen in funeral home display rooms.

3. Ask lots of questions

People tend to buy one of the first three casket models they see. So don’t be afraid to discuss your budget upfront and ask to be shown only appropriately priced options. Ask to see a written price list before you even head into the display room.

You can also ask if a particular casket comes in less-expensive colors or finishes, or if a casket you’re drawn to is available without the embroidered head panel, for instance, or silk lining. The Federal Trade Commission requires all funeral homes to present clear pricing on caskets in display rooms, but the options you see might feature full upgrades that you don’t need. Some funeral homes won’t even have their least expensive models on display.

Again, this can be an emotional and difficult purchase. Bring a friend or other family members with you to help in case you get overwhelmed.

4. Second guess those extras

Here are a few common upgrades that may not be necessary:

  • Sealers or gaskets. These features are marketed as a way to block water from entering the casket. The funeral rule forbids any claims that sealers or gaskets help preserve the body—because they don’t. But they do add hundreds of dollars to your casket costs.
  • Heavy gauge steel. If you’re looking at steel caskets, the most expensive option is 16-gauge steel. The thinner 18-gauge or 20-gauge options are just as durable and costs hundreds or even thousands of dollars less.
  • Interior fabrics. Polyester is a standard choice, with satin or velvet increasing the cost. Some fabrics may also claim to be puncture-proof or stain-resistant.
  • Personalization. From custom paint shades to printing photos or embroidering a special message on the head panel to decorating the casket’s corners with a meaningful symbol, the personalization options can feel nearly limitless. Just keep in mind that each can raise the overall price tag by at least few hundred dollars.

4. Ask about rentals

Yes, you can rent a casket. If you or your loved one will be cremated, you won’t really need a casket for the long haul. The body can be placed in an “alternative container” (made of cardboard, pressed wood, or unfinished wood) for the actual cremation. But you may want to use a casket for the service or viewings. In this case, funeral homes may have caskets that you can rent for this purpose. Ask your funeral director if this is an option for you if you know there won’t be a formal burial. 

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