1) Plan Ahead
Avoid having to make decisions during a mournful period. If you are planning for yourself, take the burden off your loved ones, and do the planning now. Know who to call and when. Know which casket your are going to buy or buy it ahead of time. Plan the funeral or memorial services. Two books which are excellent resources for reducing the cost of funerals are: Caring for the Dead: Your final act of love by Lisa Carlson and The Affordable Funeral: Going in Style, Not in Debt! by R.E. Markin. Caring for the Dead discusses the state laws regarding funerals plus much, much more. The Affordable Funeral has worksheets to help you plan your own, or a loved ones funeral.
2) Purchase or make a simple casket
Many Orthodox Christians and others believe a simple pine casket without excessive adornment to be a fitting burial container for the body which lived in humble simplicity, and will return to dust to await the resurrection.
The Federal Trade Commission provides this common sense guide when selecting caskests:
No casket or outer burial container shall be held forth as offering superior "protection" of the remains from water, moisture, biological invasion (insects, grubs, etc...), or roots, when it isn't true. Nor shall claims of indefinite preservation be made. Furthermore, no funeral home can charge a fee for the customer using a casket bought elsewhere through an alternate source, nor require a family member be present for its delivery, nor make a funeral services package contingent upon the purchase of a casket or outer container..
Summarized from the FTC Funeral Rule, 1994
3) Purchase a "grave liner" not a "coffin vault".
This is just a box that sits in the bottom of the grave into which the casket is placed and over which a cover is placed to prevent the cemetery lawn from sagging when the casket and the body disintegrate. It is referred to as the "outer burial container". A grave liner consists of concrete slabs assembled on site. A coffin vault is one piece with a top of concrete, metal, or fiberglass. A grave liner is about half the price of a coffin vault.
4) Prepare and transport the body yourself.
In forty-two states it is permitted to handle all arrangements without a funeral director. All legal requirements must be followed closely and paperwork must be in order.
In the Orthodox Christian tradition Psalms are read continuously until the funeral. The body is washed and clothed and placed in the church without embalming. Burial is usually within three days.
No state requires routine embalming. Some require embalming or refrigeration if final disposition does not take place within 24 hours. Most hospitals have refrigeration facilities. It would be a great service to its members if a parish were to start a funeral committee which would oversee and handle funeral arrangements for its members at a greatly reduced cost or even (it's been done) free.