Grave Markers Buyer’s Guide: How Much Should You Pay For A Headstone?

If you are confronted with the need to bury a loved one, you have no doubt thought about what grave marker to choose.

To help you make an informed decision, this guide will discuss all the options for choosing and purchasing a headstone.

Apart from the numerous options to choose from, I’ll also give you an idea of how much a headstone or marker will cost.

Headstone Designs

First, it’s important to know what your options are regarding headstone design.

With so many styles, colors and materials available, you’re sure to find the perfect monument for your needs.

Here is our breakdown of the most popular styles.

Type Of Memorial

When choosing a memorial, you will want to consider what best reflects your loved one’s personality.

You also want to think about how much space you’ll need for engraved text and images.

And of course, budget is a big consideration, too.

Flat tablet

These are flat markers, usually rectangular, that lie flush with the grass.

In some cases, they are raised slightly so water can run off.

This is the most economical option for a grave marker.

However, keep in mind that there is little space for engraving and personalization.

Desk Tablet (Tributes)

Sometimes called a Desk Vase Tablet, this is similar to a traditional upright headstone but smaller and thicker.

Often it is held in place by a cement foundation.

They can be used as a full monument or simply part of a larger one.

Slab monument

This marker is a plain slab, lying horizontally on the grass.

It’s thick and heavy, usually covering the entire grave plot.

It can also be a simple monument on its own, or form part of a larger monument.

Lawn monuments

Some cemeteries actually set aside a section devoted to lawn memorials, so this is worth checking into as an affordable option.

A nice variety exists among these memorials: you can choose a desk tablet style or a traditional headstone.

Cremation memorials

Here too there is a nice variety available to memorialize a loved one who was cremated.

You can get a simple plaque, an urn or a vase-shaped monument, or a traditional headstone.

By erecting a monument, you provide loved ones with a physical space in which to focus their reflection and remembrance.

Upright memorials

Upright headstones and monuments are what most of us think of when we visit a cemetery.

There are a number of choices for this traditional option.

Headstone and base

This is the most traditional and popular form of cemetery memorial:  a vertical headstone, usually made of granite.

They are often tall and thick, with a concrete base.

They can stand alone, or form part of a larger memorial.

Full single monument

This is the most common type of memorial that you will find in cemeteries:  a memorial for one person.

You are not chained to a simple headstone and base, but can explore many different designs for this elegant memorial type.

Full double monument

For partners or couples who know they want to be buried next to each other, a full double monument is a wonderful way to memorialize their bond.

It can be purchased and erected after the passing of the first partner, with space left on the stone to add relevant details about the second partner when the time comes.

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Grave Marker Materials

There is a selection of materials which can be used in constructing a grave marker.

Here are the most popular choices.

Granite

A classic choice, granite is tough and enduring, able to stand up to almost any kind of weather.

It also comes in a nice selection of colors like red, black, gray or blue.

Although traditionally considered an expensive material, the cost of granite has become more affordable over the years.

Marble

This is a beautiful material for grave markers. But keep in mind that it is not the most durable option.

It tends to weather easily. It’s also very vulnerable to moisture.

Some churches will not allow marble to be used in their cemeteries.

Limestone

Nabresina is a type of limestone often used as an alternative to marble.

It’s an attractive beige-colored stone which stands up excellently to weathering over time.

Another bonus: limestone is allowed for headstones in most churches.

Headstone Finishes

A headstone can be further personalized by the finish that you choose.

There are a number of options, each with a different look.

Polished

A fully polished headstone has a smooth, shiny look which gives an appearance of luxury.

Keep in mind that some churches will not allow polished headstones in their cemeteries due to their reflective qualities.

These markers also need a lot of maintenance to protect the polish from blemishes.

Part Polished

You can opt to have polish only on the headstone’s face and the top of the base.

This provides a nice contrast, giving subtle visual emphasis to any image or epitaphs engraved on the stone.

Honed

A honed finish is a great option if you want the smoothness of polish without the reflective properties.

To achieve this effect, the polish is partially removed with dust.

It’s a popular choice to give depth to a headstone that is multi-colored.

Rock (Pitched)

This is a rugged, old-fashioned look that’s perfect for a memorial in an older graveyard.

The rough finish and the jagged edges give the stone a rustic appearance that is unique.

Headstone Shapes

The next thing to think about is the shape you want for your headstone.

That shape should reflect the deceased person’s style and taste.

The tops and ends are shaped in a certain way to achieve a particular style.

Standard headstone shapes are described and listed here.

If you think you might want something different, you can sometimes special order it.

Straight

Some headstones have a square top and ends.

This gives it a simple but dignified appearance.

You can also opt for a square top designed with elegant Scotia corners or rounded corners.

Concave

Concave ends to a headstone give it just enough shape to be attractive, yet they are still very subtle.

Serpentine

A serpentine top to the stone gently undulates like a small wave.

Heart

Whimsical and expressive, a heart-shaped stone is a testament to enduring love.

It’s a great way to personalize a headstone and make it stand out.

Inscriptions & Lettering

The inscription is arguably the most important part of a memorial.

In it, you convey a last message to a departed loved one.

The wording and the appearance have to be just right.

Here is how you make sure the inscription is perfect.

Engraving Options

First, it’s important to decide exactly what kind of engraving you want.

There are five basic options for engraving.

Cut in

Simple yet effective, this method involves cutting the letters directly into the rock, using a sandblaster only on that portion of the stone where the letters appear.

It is economical and also requires the least amount of maintenance over the years.

Raised

This is the exact opposite of cutting the letters in. Instead, the whole monument is subjected to the sandblaster with the exclusion of the letters.

This has the effect of producing wording that is raised from the rest of the stone.

Like the cut-in method, this requires no maintenance.

Gold leaf

A bit more costly and labor-intensive, this option involves first cutting the letters in, then gilding them in elegant gold leaf.

Some maintenance over the years will be necessary to ensure that the stone retains its richly beautiful appearance.

Silver

Silver paint can be added to the lettering, making it look bold and original.

As with gold, this one requires ongoing maintenance to stand up to the elements.

This type of lettering looks amazing when paired with red granite.

What To Write

This decision is by no means easy.

You want to convey a message that encapsulates the love you feel for the deceased person in a few words.

In addition, it should be a timeless message that retains its meaning for years to come.

Here are some ideas to help.

Message

The phrase or statement engraved on a memorial stone is called an “epitaph.”

While it’s difficult to summarize a life in a few words, famous poems, songs and Bible passages provide timeless inspiration.

You can even write your own short poetry verse to engrave on the stone.

Symbols

Choosing a powerful symbol to accompany the text on the stone gives an enduring message which can be spiritual, religious or personal.

Headstone Costs

The design, the inscription and the material all have an impact on the final price of the headstone.

They differ according to the style that you choose.

Memorial Type

There are a number of different types of memorials.

Lawn markers

A basic lawn headstone can be purchased for between $600 and $2000.

You can also get a simple marker for home memorialization for around $300.

Bronze plaques

A simple memorial with a bronze plaque on a flat stone typically costs around $795  or slightly more.

Bevel markers

A simple bevel marker, which rises a few inches above the ground and has a sloping shape, usually costs upwards of $900.

Type of Granite

It’s worth the money to choose only the highest quality of granite. Cheaper granite is likelier to break, chip or erode over time.

Within these parameters, there is still plenty of choice in terms of color.

Red, blue, green and beige are all attractive colors that can give a monument a unique look.

Installation

Once chosen and purchased, the gravestone must be professionally installed in the cemetery according to industry standards.

The cost for this will vary depending on the size and complexity of the monument.

Larger or more intricate headstones take more time to install.

The average cost of installation can range from $150 to $450.

Inscription Costs

The cost of engraving a headstone is typically about $500 for a standard 20-character inscription.

Any characters beyond the standard will add to the price, usually an additional $8-$10 each.

A bronze plaque or laser-etching are economical alternatives to traditional engraving.

Cemetery Fees

Each cemetery charges a basic fee, covering maintenance and administrative costs.

There is a huge range in price for this, from about $200-$2000, depending on which cemetery you choose and which section of the cemetery.

This fee will be included in the price charged by the monument mason.

Accessories

You may want to choose a small add-on design to personalize the look of a monument.

For example, a small tribute monument can be placed on a flat slab.

Headstone vases, either of metal or granite, are another popular feature.

Catholic symbols representing Jesus, Mary or angels can also be added.

Depending on the intricacy of the design, these accessories can cost anywhere from $100 to $2000.

How To Buy A Headstone

By now you know that purchasing a headstone is by no means a simple process.

With so many styles, designs and materials available, you can choose just about anything to memorialize a loved one after death, within the constraints of your budget.

But how do you actually go about finding and purchasing the right one?

Where a Headstone Can Be Purchased

There are a number of places where you can purchase a headstone, so it’s smart to shop around.

Cemeteries and funeral homes offer a selection of headstones.

You may find more competitive pricing by looking at online stores and third-party retailers.

However, in this case you will need to factor in shipping costs, which can be high.

Finding a Reputable Stone Mason

The right stonemason can be counted on for more than simply designing and creating a headstone.

He or she will demonstrate qualities of respect and compassion which make it easier to cope during what’s sure to be a difficult time in your life.

Most of all, be wary of any stonemason who seems to be pressuring you into anything, as this is a huge red flag.

Choosing a Cemetery Section

Cemeteries may have different rules for different sections in terms of what they will accept for monuments.

Some will allow a full monument while others only allow a headstone and base.

It’s important to contact someone from the cemetery to find out what is allowed, as well as your stonemason to find out what kind of monument can be built.

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