Money Saving Funerals

It’s official: Mr Osborne says we appear to have swerved the double dip recession, but anyone with a passing interest in the economy or simply the amount of disposable income in their pocket will know that, for most of us, every penny still counts. The TV is awash with programmes persuading consumers to shift bank accounts, monitor their energy charges and there’s even a scrimping show with the best money saving practices.

None will, however, tackle the one expense which unavoidably affects us all: the cost of funerals. Given that prices have increased at a steady rate of more than 7% over the last ten years, the average cost of a funeral is now over £3,400. It is, therefore, a subject which deserves attention.

Raising the topic is not for the faint hearted; it’s not just the difficulty of the subject matter but also the marked reluctance to be seen questioning the costs involved without appearing heartless and miserly. But, as we all know, paying suitable respect does not mean that every last vestige of common sense should be cast adrift.

The average person will arrange only two funerals in their lifetime. Most will be in a state of shock during that process and the temptation to spend more than is sensible can be difficult to resist. Add to that the trepidation of even mentioning the word ‘price’ lest it offend and a Funeral Director’s lack of openness on pricing and there’s a recipe for overspend on a grand scale.

It’s a common theme. The question I am asked more than any other is: how can I ensure my family doesn’t spend a fortune on my funeral? The simple solution is of course, to choose components of the funeral in advance and, given that the deceased effectively pays for their funeral out of their estate, to specify on a scale of 1 to 10 how much should be spent. This, more than anything, will guide executors’ budget as to whether a frugal funeral is preferred or a splendid splash.

So, at a time when most of us are tightening our belts, and with current trends for the laity to take a greater part in arranging funerals, what steps can we take to reduce costs without sacrificing or compromising the level of respect being paid to the deceased? Here are a few thoughts to help you make some informed choices…

  1. Shop around for quotes: According to the Dying Matters Coalition fewer than 10% of us bother to. The time to do with isn’t after a death, it’s now. Generally speaking, small independent funeral directors are the most competitive. Stipulate requirements to compare like with like.

  1. Burial is nearly always going to be more expensive than cremation. Costs of plots varies throughout the country, averaging around £750 plus burial fees £600.

  1. Coffins: The range is vast; from eco cardboard at around £200 to oak caskets at £2000. They can be purchased direct from wholesalers if you wish to go down the DIY route. Be mindful: there are many grades of cardboard so don’t stint on something which is, frankly, unserviceable. The unthinkable has been known…. Excellent advice from Charles Cowling of The Good Funeral Guide

  1. If a body is not to be viewed, there is little to be gained in paying for embalming. Most Funeral Directors carry this out as a matter of course unless you stipulate otherwise. It is unnecessary. Save £75

  1. Dressing: Most of us have wardrobes full of clothes and/or sheets. There really should be no need for anyone to have to purchase a funeral gown or suit. Save £30-50

  1. Is the deceased going to be visited at the Funeral Director’s premises? If not, ensure you are not paying for something that is not required.

  1. For some, the deceased resting in church overnight prior to a funeral is a given. Perfectly acceptable but bear in mind there are extra charges involved – within the church and additional day’s hire of the hearse.

  1. Flowers: there are few greater examples of waste than the hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds that can be spent on flowers at a funeral. Specify ‘No Flowers’ to mourners and instead arrange for the family to contribute to a single wreath. Go lavish if need be and purchase one to cover the entire coffin. It will cost £250-300 but it will be much cheaper than everyone buying their own wreath.

  1. Or…less is more: one of the most stunning floral tributes I have witnessed was a rattan coffin with lilies loosely stitched around the edges and rose petals strewn on top of the coffin. Simply beautiful and beautifully simple. Cost £15. If no flowers are specified, many mourners may wish to contribute to a charity of the deceased’s choice. A fantastic opportunity to raise funds but if donations aren’t collected on the way out of the funeral service, chances are they never will be.

  2. A hearse will cost around £250-£300 for the day’s hire. Alternatives are available: any estate car, or to keep in line with the independently minded consider self-drive. Not only will this be cheaper, it does offer the family the opportunity to take control and specify, no matter how wayward, the route of the coffin.

  1. Are limousines required to follow the hearse? Each cost around £250 …

  2. There may be additional charges attached for using professional pall bearers. Consider using members of the family and/or friends.

  3. Orders of Service: Anyone can purchase a decent quality paper or card, and DIY.

  4. Funeral music. Obviously the hire of an organist, choir, or soloist will always be more expensive, but canned music is not always the answer. Check first whether the clergy will allow the choice of music and check too the acoustics in the church or venue. Not all have BOSE sound systems so it may prove to be a false economy. Remember, this isn’t about sacrificing quality and you have just one opportunity to get it right.

  5. After service reception, wake or gathering: Options abound: DIY at home, or use a hotel, pub, church hall. Prices will, of course, vary enormously, but the truth is for many this is one of the most important elements of the funeral; memories of the deceased shared, friendships rekindled, links forged, heartfelt anecdotes by those unwilling or unable to speak at the funeral. Personally, not an area I would wish to skimp on.

  6. For those who wish to have no funeral at all and a simple cremation. Visit Simplicita Cremations

  7. Or donate your body to medical science. No funeral required at all but be aware bodies are not always accepted.

  1. Be wary of pre-paid funeral plans. They aren’t always the answer either and, rightly or wrongly, have a poor reputation amongst those within the industry.

  2. For those who are financially challenged, there may be options for applying for assistance from the government although there are significant cut backs even here and payment may be some time after the event.

Funerals should always be a fitting tribute but the amount of money spent should not be seen as an indicator of how cherished the deceased was. With prudence and some forward planning, unnecessary costs can be avoided making life, and death, more manageable for all.

Copyright Patricia C Byron 2014

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