Funerals are among the most expensive purchases consumers make. A traditional funeral can easily cost more than $6,500, not counting cemetery costs, which could add $2,000.
For most purchases, that's a price point that warrants extensive research and comparison shopping. But for funerals, that rarely happens.
It should, said Joshua Slocum, executive director of the Funeral Consumers Alliance and co-author of the new book, "Final Rights: Reclaiming the American Way of Death."
"You might hear at a funeral home, 'How can you put a price on how much you love your mother?' Well, that's true. But turn it around and think to yourself, 'If I spend according to how much I love my mother, I'd be bankrupt,'" Slocum said.
"We can't show how much we love or respect the dead by how much money we spend on them."
Although the funeral business doesn't usually change much, some new trends are worth knowing about to plan an appropriate funeral and to be a smart consumer.
Cremation: Cremation is becoming more socially acceptable, even by religious groups, and it can cost a lot less than a traditional burial.
Many people choose cremation because they and their extended family don't have roots in the same area.
Family cemetery plots make less practical sense, said Bob Arrington of Arrington Funeral Directors in Jackson, Tenn.
Alkaline hydrolysis: Everybody has heard about burial and cremation, but the funeral industry is in the very early stages of introducing a third option, alkaline hydrolysis or resomation (the name used in Europe for the alkaline hydrolysis process).
It essentially uses lye to chemically dissolve body tissue.
It's not yet a common offering, and some states require legislation to make it legal. (It is under legislative review in Washington state).
But it could become a more mainstream option likely to cost less than a traditional burial; more on par with cremation.
Going green: Green goes for burials, too, but funeral homes have different ideas about what constitutes an eco-friendly burial.
Slocum said his definition of a green burial would exclude chemical embalming, which most times isn't necessary anyway.
It would not include a coffin or casket, just a shroud or simple biodegradable box, like cardboard. He would eliminate a concrete vault for the grave.
"What's a green burial, really? It's about what you don't buy," Slocum said.
Personalization: A traditional full-service funeral usually includes embalming, public viewing and graveside ceremony.
"People are moving the ceremony out of the funeral home and into places like parks and banquet centers," Slocum said, adding that such events usually don't involve a display of the body.
Tech solutions: Funeral webcasts are becoming more of an option, especially when family or friends are unable to attend.
Some funeral homes offer memorial websites where a Web page might include a biography of the deceased, a family tree and photos, and places to add memoriams.
Nowadays, you can even shop for caskets online.
Prepare, not prepay: The single most important thing you can do regarding your own funeral is to have a clear conversation with loved ones about what you want.
Consumer groups, including the Funeral Consumers Alliance, say planning is key but paying ahead isn't, because too many things can change and go wrong over time.
Funeral directors generally disagree, pointing out that you can lock in costs at today's prices.
Know your rights: Consumer rights regarding funerals are dictated by federal law, called the Funeral Rule. Find details www.tinyurl.com/funeralrule.
Among the rights you have are price quotes by phone, a printed price list, and the ability to pick only items and services you want and can afford.
Compare: Slocum contends that a sampling of prices from 10 funeral homes in the same town is likely to vary by $2,000 on the exact same funeral.