The loss of a loved one places a tremendous burden on surviving friends and family. On top of that emotional distress, funeral and burial costs are rising. In 2017, the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) found the median funeral cost, including viewing and burial, to be $8,755.
An often-overlooked aspect of funeral and burial arrangements is the memorial headstone. Most families who choose a burial want a marker that uniquely and appropriately honors the loved one they’ve lost and satisfies their wishes. Even those who choose cremation or another alternative desire a place and symbol to use for memorialization.
While researching memorial costs, you will find that the price can vary dramatically. This is due to the number of factors involved in a headstone.
The purpose of this guide is to provide the knowledge necessary to help you:
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A memorial, headstone or monument is the lasting symbol of a life that has been lost. It is a deeply personal object.
Unlike most commercial products you’ll purchase, grave markers are not mass-produced—nor should they be. Each detail is significant and cannot be replicated on a conveyor belt or replaced by the next technological advancement, including the:
Due to the unique nature of memorials, each customized, personalized feature influences the price.
The cost of each memorial type is generally related to:
Later in this guide, you will see how the cost of each memorial also depends on the material’s quality, design details and more. As a baseline, here are general price ranges for each memorial type.
Note that each cemetery will have rules and regulations surrounding the type, size and material memorials allowed.
Considered a “basic stone,” lawn-level memorials sit flush with the ground and are typically a rectangular or square shape.
Often mounted on a granite base, bronze memorials sit flush with or are slightly raised off the ground. As the Price Range Comparison chart showcases, bronze memorials have an especially wide variance in price. This is due to the possibility of using bronze on a flush, bevel, slant or even an upright memorial.
Affectionately called a “pillow,” bevel memorials rise a few inches above the ground and have a slight sloping shape.
Slant memorials are cut at an angle to allow inscriptions to be seen from a distance—the first memorial type on this list that always offer that.
These large memorials are built to be admired from afar. Most commonly seen as rectangles or with rounded edges, upright memorials may also be unique shapes or accompanied by a statue.
Even within one memorial type, the price variance can be hundreds or even thousands of dollars. The differences relate to factors of the monument provider, the material used and the family’s wishes. We explore these factors throughout the guide.
Granite and bronze are the primary material options for memorials. Granite is a broad category of rock that ranges across the color spectrum—from grays and blacks to reds and blues. It isn’t made by people or machines, but by geological processes in the earth over thousands or millions of years after molten rock has cooled.
Key factors to consider when purchasing a granite memorial include its grade, color and variety.
As a lasting symbol of a lost life, the fundamental expectation of granite is that it is durable. To help guarantee you a memorial that will endure for generations, the entire monument industry converted from softer rocks, like marble and slate, to granite, which does not naturally deteriorate even 1/1000th of an inch in a century.
Despite its natural strength, not all granite provides the same reliability.
Grade is the term used to signify the quality of a piece of granite. Granite quality may not be easily visible to the naked, untrained eye, but grade reflects a piece of granite’s:
Low commercial grade granite is prone to chipping, degradation and discoloration over time. Craftspeople will have difficulty engraving or etching low-grade granite, especially for fine details. The low density, flaws and inconsistencies in poor granite diminishes the material’s sharpness and pristine appearance when cut or polished.
In terms of cost, high-grade granite is naturally more expensive. But the advantage of superb granite can be seen from the start and is especially recognized in the decades and centuries to come.
Ask your memorial provider about their granite grade or quality, or ask if they have a warranty. Providers that offer a warranty on their memorials back up their words with a commitment to you and confidence in their granite.
Granite is a combination of various minerals and rocks, which explains the different colors, textures and patterns available. The types vary by region and may be sourced from North America, Asia and Europe.
More readily available colors, such as traditional grays seen in most cemeteries, are likely priced lower. Blue pearl or aurora red, however, are examples of more exquisite and rare granites that are priced higher due to their limited supply. Nearly any style you can imagine is available, it just depends on a memorial provider’s inventory, your timeline and, of course, your budget.
The price for granite varieties is not stagnant, and can alter if an influx of a certain granite variety is introduced to the market.
The other material option for consideration is bronze. If selected, bronze is typically mounted on a granite or cement base in accordance with cemetery rules and regulations. Bronze, like granite, is meant to last thousands of years with almost no degradation. Though bronze is not susceptible to rust, regular upkeep is recommended to prevent corrosion from altering its color.
On a lawn-level, slant or upright monument, the bronze is placed and priced based on the number of characters or the intricacy of any designs. Pricing, like granite, can be broad, ranging from around a thousand dollars for a simple lawn-level to tens of thousands of dollars for large and intricate bronze statues.
Because bronze is a metal, its price fluctuates with supply and demand. For example, something could cost $10,000 in 2010 and $20,000 in 2020, depending on the cost of the particular metal.
If you choose to work with a memorial manufacturer, they will have a great understanding of pricing at a given time. If working through a funeral home, cemetery or other third party, they may not have the same level of knowledge about the material’s source.
Once the memorial’s size, shape and material are selected, the canvas is in place. The final decisions—and perhaps those most intimately personal—are which words and images will be drawn in stone.
Though not nearly as integral to the cost as the stone size, shape and type, different design options have associated costs.
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Sandblasting is the standard method used for most lettering and many designs seen on memorials.
The characters and designs on this memorial were sandblasted.
Because sandblasting is the method most reputable memorial providers use for granite memorials, all standard lettering should be included for the same cost, regardless of the number of characters. Standard lettering and designs include:
Paint for the lettering and designs is also included if the color is commonly used or already in stock.
Two etching methods can be employed in place of or supplementary to sandblasted words and designs. After sandblasting is complete, etching can add personalized designs to the memorial. Or, the entire memorial can be etched in certain situations.
In addition to sand blasted words, families may choose to have additional designs etched by hand.
Hand etching is a unique and difficult skill that adds incredible character and customization to a memorial. Talented hand etchers can take a scenic picture or multiple images of a person and create a one-of-a-kind image.
The portrait on the memorial above, for example, may have been created from three separate photos. Not only is hand etching an impressive precision skill, it is a true art that requires creativity that a machine cannot yet create on its own.
Laser etching is a less expensive alternative to hand etching, and is especially effective if a family wants an image replicated onto stone. The downside to laser etching is that it does not offer the artistic difference of hand etching.
When used in place of sandblasting, laser etching is cost effective because the entire memorial can be inscribed at one time (like the memorial below).
The slight disadvantage of using laser etching in place of sandblasting for the name, date and more, is that laser etching does not provide the same depth that creates contrast for the lettering and designs.
Pricing: Hand Etching vs. Laser Etching
Pricing and quality may vary by provider. But, to use as an example, below is pricing for hand and laser etchings at Milano Monuments. Prices may increase depending on the size or detail required to craft the etching.
For other images, such as scenery, pets and other unique designs, pricing will depend on each picture’s complexity.
Milano Monuments is thankful to have an extremely talented hand etcher, Peter Viyuk, who can personalize your photograph. Contact us to meet Peter and discuss a possible hand etching.
There are a few other offerings from memorial providers that create especially distinct memorials.
Sculptures & Carving
Few features set a memorial apart like a unique sculpture or carving. A carving, such as the flower (left) or the mother and son (right) shown below, can be personalized for the family or individual.
Another option is to have a bronze or granite sculpture created uniquely for the memorial, either to place on or near it. The Dudinov memorial below features both a bronze statue (angel and dog) and a sculpture (sky and dove) carved into the granite.
Pricing for sculptures and carvings depends on a number of factors, including the:
Ceramic or porcelain photos are typically used as an alternative to hand or laser etching to put an individual or family portrait on a memorial.
If considering a ceramic or porcelain photo, here’s what to know:
Sometimes the best complement to a specialized memorial is something that keeps it fresh. By adding one or multiple vases to a headstone, fresh and colorful flowers can be placed for special occasions.
Vases can be unique, just like the memorials with which they are combined. These come in several shapes, sizes and materials, and can be in the ground or attached to the memorial’s base or top. Materials include:
Quality granite vases may cost $250 and up depending on the material, shape, size and whether it is joined with the memorial or placed in the ground.
Once all other factors have been considered, it’s worth understanding how the provider can affect the price to some degree for a few reasons.
When all else is equal between the granite quality, shape, size and design details, what difference remains? Craftsmanship.
The most personal aspects of a memorial are the words and design elements inscribed on the piece of granite. The best craftspeople in the world make your vision into art that is beautiful to look at and built to last.
For instance, Milano Monuments offers deeper characters and designs. These will retain their color and provide more contrast to bystanders.
Hand etching also creates a more personalized and memorable piece than machines or average designers can provide.
While these design differences may come at a cost, the difference you experience from day one through multiple generations is significant.
Amount of granite, degree of personalization, shape uniqueness—these each have a calculable value associated with them. What is hard to identify without viewing the final product is reputation.
With reputation comes assurance. A well-known, trusted provider with a history of satisfied families and high-quality craftsmanship may price their product slightly higher than a newcomer to the industry.
Not only is there reputation in a name, but in a provider’s reliable quality and consistency. To gauge a provider’s reputation, visit their website, find a portfolio of past work and ask about family testimonials. If these aren’t readily available, it may be a red flag.
You want to choose a memorial provider that offers the best value, and won’t upsell you just to make more money. A reputable memorial provider will respect your wishes and partner with you to create the most personalized, beautiful memorial possible, in your budget.
To get the best experience and value during a memorial purchase, work directly with a memorial provider. As with any product, the more businesses involved in the supply chain, the more cost can be incurred to the consumer.
Funeral homes and cemeteries often help coordinate the memorial and cemetery plot purchase. And, out of convenience, many families may choose to take this offer.
However, going directly to a memorial provider removes an additional step in the process. It also opens up all of the monument provider’s offerings, not just what the funeral home or cemetery can offer. Direct communication with a memorial provider and its designers also helps ensure all of your design and inscription wishes come to fruition.
While prices may be comparable when working with a funeral home, cemetery or memorial provider, professional memorialists can offer their expertise and broader capabilities as you consider memorial options.
In early 2010, ecommerce sales across all products accounted for just 4.2% of all retail sales. That figure jumped to 9.5% by 2018.
This growing trend has started to infiltrate the memorial business—but should it?
Purchasing online is easy and fast, but if you’re looking for the best deal, an online retailer will likely give you more headaches than benefits. Why?
Each cemetery has its own rules and regulations. If a memorial is ordered and doesn’t meet the cemetery’s dimensional and style requirements, it can be denied and unable to be placed on the grave. Local memorial providers have relationships with nearby cemeteries, understanding the specific requirements for all headstones in the cemetery, which can even vary plot to plot.
Online retailers do not advocate for their customers. When faced with a poor experience with a cemetery or an unlawful regulation, reputable memorial providers understand their customers' rights, and will work to make sure your memorial becomes a reality.
Online retailers cannot place your stone in a cemetery. Many cemeteries will not accept memorials from online providers and return it back to the sender. Without proof of insurance by a local monument retailer, cemeteries cannot place a stone. Local memorial providers will act as a concierge to ensure all cemetery requirements are met, documents are signed and the setting is approved.
The memorial quality cannot be ensured when ordering online. Some online retailers offer lower prices because they use lower grades of granite or because the stone sizes and finishes are smaller than local cemeteries may require. Also, they have no way of showcasing their work or products. Milano Monuments, for example, has an onsite showroom with examples and material samples, giving you peace of mind for this important purchase.
To view this guide as a PDF or to access a printable version for later viewing, click here.
At Milano Monuments, we work individually with each family and individual to design a memorial that is both personal and exceptional. Whether it is for yourself or a loved one, we will be transparent and helpful, and take the time to answer any questions you may have during this difficult time.
We believe in educating families so they understand the value of this gift that will last forever in history.
Schedule an appointment and one of our family representatives will partner with you, handle all communication with the cemetery (even for one out of the area or in a different state) and keep you updated as the memorial is created.