Frugal Funerals: How Families are Cutting Costs
The funeral business has always been considered recession-proof. Everyone dies eventually, after all, guaranteeing an endless customer base. And, with the rapid aging of the ubiquitous baby boom generation, the demand for funeral goods and services is sure to rise in the coming years. But demand is only part of the equation; today, more and more families are opting out of the expensive frills that escalate funeral costs.
Only “the best” for your loved one
I was 25 when my father-in-law died suddenly, and although I had no experience in such matters, I was designated to make arrangements. I recall the funeral director steering toward a high-end casket and describing the $10,000 funeral that went with it. “Surely, you’ll want the best for your father?” he said.
A faint smile crossed my lips; not only was my name not Shirley, but this funeral director obviously didn’t know Jack (which happened to be the name of my father-in-law). Jack would drive halfway across town to save a penny on a gallon of gas. When I went shopping – for groceries, clothing, or whatever – Jack, who virtually lived with my family, would ask how much I paid for a given item, eagerly waiting for my reply before he gleefully told me what a sap I was and where I could have gotten it cheaper. A thrifty but lovable curmudgeon, that Jack.
“Can we see something more affordable, please?” I replied. “Best,” after all, is in the eye of the beholder.
Consumers demand flexible, lower-cost funerals
That was many years ago, long before the global recession of the early 21st century. Bargain shopping for funeral goods and services wasn’t yet in vogue, but the lessons I gleaned from that experience made it easier for me to assist my own parents in planning their funerals a decade later.
Today, many factors have influenced the shift in the way we approach funerals. The Federal Trade Commission’s Funeral Rule requires full price disclosure by providers of funeral goods and services, and allows families to choose only those items they want and need. And savvy, cash-strapped consumers are opting not only for “the best,” but also simplicity and cost savings.
Funeral service providers who get it are stepping up to offer discounted goods and services, and they’re thriving as a result. Take Newcomer Funeral Homes in Topeka, Kansas for example. Newcomer, where a casketed funeral costs just $4,000, saw a 10 percent increase in business in 2008. And Barton Family Funeral Service near Seattle charges just $695 for a cremation; they’ve watched their business double every year since 2005, to a point where they’re conducting around 140 funerals a month – more than some traditional funeral homes see in a year.
Practical suggestions for cutting funeral costs
Opting for cremation over burial is just one way families are reducing funeral expenses. Following are some suggestions we’ve heard for having “the best” funeral with the lowest cost:
- Let your fingers do the walking. Call around to funeral homes and ask for their price lists.
- Be wary of package pricing. Choose only the specific goods and services you want and need.
- Buy a casket from a discount supplier. The funeral home is obligated to use the casket you provide, and they can’t charge an added fee for doing so.
- Go natural. Embalming and leak-proof caskets are unnecessary expenses in most circumstances. “Green” funerals are friendly to the environment and the wallet.
- Let the funeral home conduct the burial or cremation, but hold a memorial service at home or in a peaceful outdoor setting.
- Ask friends and family to help with funeral details, from selecting a musical playlist to purchasing flowers to creating a program for guests. You’ll avoid extra charges for these services, and the funeral or memorial service will be far more personal and meaningful.