By LESLEY GREGORY
As our grieving family flicked through the catalogue of coffins I couldn’t help noticing that the cheaper models were way down the back. It started to feel uncomfortable: How long were we going to keep turning the pages? How “cheap” were we going to be?
I’m sure it was deliberate, to encourage us to spend just a little more than we might have otherwise. Ultimately, we chose a mid-range casket for my father’s send-off. He’d probably have turned a few more pages, having come from a family of modest means. And, as a business owner himself, he probably wouldn’t have begrudged the marketing tactic.
But, with the cost of funerals skyrocketing, the question now being asked is whether some funeral providers are going too far and taking unreasonable advantage of the fact the death of a loved one is hardly a time when people feel like shopping around.
The average cost of a funeral in the UK is now £4,417, with the average for a burial fast approaching £5000 and a cremation nearing £4000. The cost is rising at a much faster rate than inflation, with the average cost of a funeral rising 60 per cent in the past decade. That’s three times the rate of wages growth.
The large price hikes have prompted an official inquiry, with the Competition and Markets Authority due to report in September. The CMA has already estimated, in an interim report, that consumers could save over £1,000 by comparison shopping, while noting that “people organising a funeral are usually distressed and often not in a position to do this”.
The interim report also found that 60% of people had put some money aside for their own funeral but two-thirds didn’t have enough to cover the full cost. Around 70% of families had to meet some or all of their relative’s funeral costs, and 12% of those had trouble finding that money.
So, what can you do to ensure you’re not paying too much for a funeral?
Think about what your loved one would really want. Would they want you to go into debt or feel stressed about money? It’s not disrespectful to them to think about funeral costs. The price of a coffin can be as little as £100 or as much as £10,000. Which end of the scale do you think they’d want?
Get at least two quotes. Be careful when comparing them, though. What’s included and excluded in the quotes? One might appear cheap but end up higher after “other” costs are added on subsequently. Ensure you get a breakdown and ask what other costs might come separately. The Fair Funerals website lists funeral directors who have taken a pledge to be transparent about pricing and mindful of people’s ability to pay.
Think carefully about the “extras”. Optional extras like music and a slideshow of photos can be meaningful to those present, but overly expensive funeral cars, catering and flowers won’t mean anything to the departed or those mourning their loss. Check out the average costs for these here so you have something to measure against.
Choose location well. There can be big price differences between cemeteries (or crematoriums). It’s inevitable that a plot in London will cost much more than one in an area where land prices are much lower (£4000-plus versus perhaps £500). But there may also be savings to be had from comparing cemeteries only miles apart. Ask your funeral director to address this question, or ring around yourself. Also compare any separate charges for ongoing maintenance of the plot.
Consider non-traditional alternatives. There’s no law that says you have to have a funeral or that you must use a funeral director. A “direct cremation” is an increasingly popular option. This involves cremation without a funeral service, eliminating many of the expenses involved with a traditional funeral and potentially halving the price. Instead, loved ones say their goodbyes separately, perhaps in a much more informal and less costly way. See the guide to arranging a funeral yourself here.
Accept help. This is a time when people come together. Accepting help from friends and family with elements such as catering and flower arranging, for example, can reduce costs and add a personal touch. Ringing around service providers may be too much for you at this difficult time, but friends could step in to help.
Plan ahead. Perhaps the best thing you can do is plan your own funeral, so there’s time to make some key decisions about what you want and a chance to shop around without the emotion attached. At the very least, let your family know your wishes for a modest farewell.
LESLEY GREGORY is an experienced personal finance and consumer journalist. If you’re interested in more of her personal finance tips, here are some more of her most recent articles: