The recent Memorial Day holiday got me thinking about the ways we honor those we love. Planning ahead can help to ease the emotional and financial burdens when a family member dies.

Americans spend billions of dollars every year to arrange more than 2 million funerals for loved ones. Funerals rank among the most expensive purchases many consumers will ever make. Yet, when a loved one dies, grieving family members are confronted with dozens of decisions about the funeral all of which must be made quickly and often under great emotional stress.

A funeral is a consumer product yet different.

Even if you're the kind of person who might haggle with a dozen dealers to get the best price on a new car, you're likely to feel uncomfortable comparing prices or negotiating the best deal for a funeral. Compounding this discomfort is the fact that some people "overspend" on a funeral or burial because they think of it as a reflection of their feelings for the deceased.

Advance planning makes decisions easier.

Consumers who make funeral plans in advance can compare prices and services so that the funeral reflects a wise and well-informed purchasing decision, honors the deceased and is meaningful to survivors. Remember, pre-planning does not have to equal pre-paying, so even those who are uncomfortable about paying for services in advance can benefit from planning ahead before any dollars ever change hands.

Here are some suggestions to consider:

1. Shop around in advance. Compare prices from at least two funeral homes. Choose reputable funeral homes so you know they will still be in business when your need arises.

2. Ask for a price list. By law, funeral homes must give you written price lists for products and services. You can supply your own casket or urn.

3. Resist pressure to buy goods and services you don't really need.

4. Avoid emotional overspending. You can properly honor a loved one without the fanciest casket or the most elaborate funeral.

5. Recognize your rights. Funeral and burial laws vary from state to state. For information about the Kansas rules and laws and other helpful resources, go online to the Kansas State Board of Mortuary Arts at www.kansas.gov/ksbma/.

6. Apply the same smart shopping techniques that you use for other major purchases. Consider your needs and preferences, shop around and ask lots of questions.

7. Plan ahead. It allows you to comparison shop without time constraints, creates an opportunity for family discussion and lifts some of the burden from your family. If you are planning your own service, and especially if you are paying in advance, you may want to review your arrangements every few years.

For more information, talk to your local funeral director. You'll find he can provide a wealth of helpful information and advice.

The Federal Trade Commission also offers a consumer guide to funeral planning complete with a price checklist, glossary of terms, description of services and a list of questions to ask. Get your copy of "Funerals, A Consumer Guide" (http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/products/pro19.shtm) and other helpful resources at the FTC website www.ftc.gov.

For more information on topics like this, see my Living Well blog at SWKTalk.com/livingwell.