Whether it is a small family-owned and run funeral home or it is a large corporation that owns hundreds or thousands of funeral homes and cemeteries, businesses operate in order to make a profit. However, there is a huge difference between a locally owned and operated firm versus one owned by a large corporation.
As one example, this quote is from Marketwatch in an article dated March 7, 2017.
“The survey found median prices at SCI (the largest corporation in the industry) were 72% higher for simple cremation, 50% higher for simple burial, and 47% higher for a full service funeral than at independent homes surveyed.”
This series of articles is not designed to disparage making a profit in the funeral or cemetery industry. As I have stated previously, I still have friends and former colleagues in the industry. I would drive across the state to work for them if I needed a job in the industry again.
What concerns me is that families are rarely given the knowledge needed to make informed decisions that will help them save money. There are many things that an overwhelming majority of funeral directors will NOT tell you.
In addition, the exorbitant rate of markups found in many firms is shocking, and the only way you will normally find out is on the worst day of your life.
Nobody truly likes the thought of their loved one being burned in a crematory, or being buried in a box six feet under the ground. The thought of those we love not being with us is bad enough without having to deal with the thoughts of horror that can run rampant through the mind.
Funeral directors know and are trained in how the human mind works. They will use these methods to steer or guide you into making the decisions you do. Many times, you will have no idea of the controlling or manipulative tactics that are employed in order to drive up the cost of your loved ones’ funeral.
The western world is one of the few places where so much money is spent on the disposition of a body. On average, we spend 4 times as much as the cost of disposition in the UK, as just one example.
This is the average markup on a casket. Simple terms, the funeral home or corporation buys average metal caskets in bulk from companies like Batesville for around $300–500 each. They are then delivered and placed on display where families will pay $1300–2500 for the same piece of shaped metal. The lower end pricing normally reflects costs at independently owned firms versus the prices found at corporate-owned locations.
What to Do
1. Stay away from items that are nothing more than gimmicks or phrases that are inaccurate at best and grossly misleading at worst.
Concrete is porous. This means that the lined vault you purchase after being told it would keep your loved one dry is nothing more than an over-priced fabrication (in modern English — a big, fat lie).
The additional cost of several hundred dollars to several thousand dollars added to your bill is simply the extra inclusion of a rubber gasket that costs the funeral company less than $20. Again, sealing a casket does nothing to protect the integrity of the body. In fact, if you choose a mausoleum-type entombment, you will not be told that the casket is NOT fully tightened down and sealed.
A solid casket made of wood will generally cost between $800–1500 to the funeral home. Some may be a little less, but those are then increased to $3800–7500 for the same item. One of the costlier features is a keepsake drawer built into the casket lid where families are encouraged to leave mementoes for their loved one. If a family expresses an interest in one of these caskets, the funeral director will NOT tell them that they are welcome to place letters, pictures, or keepsakes in ANY casket, even if it does not hold the expensive feature.
2. Do not get suckered into purchasing expensive items that seem like they are a “required service.”
“Rental caskets” — Yes, this is an actual item.
It involves the use of a long cardboard box. The deceased will be cremated, but the family wants an actual funeral service. Funeral homes have a special unit that opens from the top and the end. This allows the cardboard box to be inserted into the nicer looking casket just for the funeral. The privilege of using this rental service will cost you an additional $900–1700 on average. The casket is then removed from the funeral service and the cardboard box holding the actual remains is taken out for cremation. This rental service is generally for a use period of 45 minutes to one hour.
“Embalming” — NOT REQUIRED BY LAW IN ANY STATE!
If there is no viewing to take place, embalming is not necessary. If only immediate family members are going to say goodbye, again, embalming is not necessary. Embalming is supposedly the preservation of the body, but this is not entirely accurate. Embalming does not AND cannot guarantee that your loved ones remains will remain intact and not go through any form of decomposition over any set period of time. Embalming is merely a chemically induced means of forestalling rapid decomposition and allows the body to be prepared and seen in a more natural state for funeral services.
3. Shop around. Shop around. Shop around.
“Choice” — If the death was sudden, the family is still allowed to choose which funeral home they want to use. It does NOT matter which funeral home is on duty. What matters is what you want.
“Check prices” — FCC requires that all funeral homes provide a General Price List (GPL) and casket price list. Locally owned funeral homes will normally post these online as well, but the homes and cemeteries owned by large corporations generally do NOT publish their GPL. Staff are often trained to stall your requests until they can get you seated in a chair where high pressure is the name of the game until you sign.
“Online” — Read online ratings for your selection of funeral home. While reviews are not as prevalent as for other customer service based companies, you can normally learn a great deal about the way a funeral home or cemetery operates.
“Flowers” — Yes, it is important to even shop for flower arrangements. In the shock that comes with the death of a loved one, most families do not give one moment of thought to what they spending.
Funeral homes that are directly linked to a florist shop are not always the best place to shop. Connected florists often have higher profit margins because of the reasons already stated. Visiting a local florist and making a selection without telling them it is for a funeral can save you 40–60% on the cost of a floral arrangement.
In my next article, I plan on giving information on the best practices needed in order to save the most amount of money.