I just read the post below by sethra007 on reddit.com. Basically it says that you are going to get screwed over by funeral services if you don't do your homework ahead of time. It's worth a read.
My uncle is a mortician, and I can tell you from him that funeral homes are all about sales and mark-ups. Funeral homes deliberately try to have you make decisions where you're at your worst emotionally, because you're more likely to spend money that way.
When I buried my mother five years ago, it cost nearly $6,000.00, and that was for a basic funeral (which was all we could afford at the time). According to the Los Angeles Times, the average cost of a typical American funeral is now $7,755.00, and that only covers the basics.
Imagine my rage later when I discovered we didn't have to spend that much money. I could have gotten a casket (our biggest expense) for $2000 less via CostCo or the Trappist Monks. Online companies like Star Legacy Funeral Network offer caskets at up to 50 percent off retail, and many offer next day delivery or free shipping. Or I could have built one. If you're being cremated, you can do a rental casket. Heck, I didn't even have to have a casket--I could have used an alternate container.
In my state, I didn't have to have Mom embalmed (which not only would have saved money but would have been better for the environment) or have a burial container for the grave. I had online resources for getting grave markers.
I couldn't do too much to minimize other expenses because my mom had already purchased a grave site. But there were still quite a few things I could have saved money on had I known about funeral planning ahead of time.
The Funeral Consumer Alliance has a great article on how funeral homes manipulate their customers, and the Federal Trade Commission has valuable information on what your rights are when buying funeral goods and services. I highly recommend people read those sites, as well as explore the Funeral Consumer Alliance web site in general. And even though it's dated, I recommend reading Jessica Mitford's classic "The American Way of Death", which dissected the American funeral industry of the '50s and '60s.
I think funerals in general are good things for the surviving loved ones. I know my mother's funeral brought me a lot of closure after her long illness. But I also know that when Jessica Mitford died in 1996, her funeral arrangements cost around $400. I may not be able to get it down that low, but I am most definitely planning on minimizing the cost. I'm sparing my family the expense and either having a low-cost green burial or donating my body to science.
tl;dr version: Funerals cost way too much, but there's ways to cut significant costs. Know your rights, pre-plan your own funeral, and visit the [Funeral Consumer Alliance] (http://www.funerals.org/).