2. Avoid emotional overspending.
Emotions at the time of a death can often drive family members to overspend.
"The peculiarity of this business is that its profitability is dependent necessarily on how much you spend in a vulnerable and grief-stricken time," Slocum said. "There's no other transaction like it."
But it's important to keep in mind the family budget, wishes of the deceased, and religious and cultural traditions.
The average cost of a full-service funeral can approach $10,000 but that includes a lot of services many families may not feel they need, such as embalming or the costs of a public viewing.
Slocum cringes at such an estimate, saying it can cause consumers to think that's what should be spent for a "traditional" or "normal" funeral, suggesting anything less would be inadequate.
Other less costly options are available including direct burial or direct cremation.
Direct burial includes a simple container and burial shortly after death. Similarly, direct cremation occurs shortly after death, with the remains placed in an urn or other container.
These services don't include viewing or visitation, which reduces the single most expensive aspect of a funeral — the casket. Also, no embalming is necessary, which cuts costs by hundreds of dollars.
This point raises a common misperception that embalming is required by law. It isn't in most cases, a fact that should be disclosed on the funeral home's price list.
3. Understand basics about the casket and burial containers.
Costs can range from a few hundred dollars to $5,000 or more. Funeral homes are required to provide a written casket price list before they show clients the caskets. If you don't see lower-priced options on display, ask to see them.
Often, grave liners or burial vaults also are sold to protect the casket. State laws do not require a vault or liner. Some cemeteries require an outer burial container to prevent a grave from sinking.
Like caskets, funeral directors must show you a price list for grave liners and vaults and must allow you to use one purchased elsewhere.