The recent SunLife report produced in January 2024 states that after two years of falls, the cost of a basic funeral is on the rise again. The cost of a basic funeral now stands at £4,141 (up 4.7% on last year). It also cites that the average cost of dying (that’s a funeral plus professional fees and send-off costs) has now reached a record high. Versus the previous year, direct cremations are up by 20%, burials are cited at 27% and cremations are at 54% which is a small drop from the previous year.
Full details of the report can be found here and it makes fascinating reading.
Rising costs of funerals
I had the opportunity recently to talk on BBC Radio Bristol about why this is happening and to also explore the alternative options that you can think about when planning a funeral for either yourself or for a loved one. The cost-of-living crisis will without doubt have impacted the rising costs of funerals and specifically for funeral directors there will be many costs to consider such as the running of vehicles, fuel, materials, employees etc.
Reducing costs for a funeral
As a Celebrant, I am seeing changes across the funeral landscape. The role of the funeral director is an important one for many who may require additional support in terms of the organisation of the funeral. There are, however, costs that can be avoided or reduced if you plan the funeral yourself.
It is important to note that you are not legally obliged to use a funeral director, book a hearse, or have a very expensive coffin which is where some of these additional costs will really add up. This is, however, a difficult and challenging time for a lot of people and when you are coping with a significant bereavement, you may want the expertise of a funeral director to help with all the organisation. Alternatively, if you are open to other options you may want to consider a direct cremation, water cremation or even a burial at sea.
If you are planning a funeral and there is a limited budget, there are several ways to reduce costs, these can include booking a direct cremation or an early morning funeral. You don’t have to have flowers and in fact, it is better not to have flowers from an environmental point of view. You could for example pick rosemary from your garden, a beautiful herb that is supposed to symbolise remembrance and one that was used in the late Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral flowers.
There are also many alternatives to your traditional coffin to include cardboard, Papier Mache, flat pack, sea grass, biodegradable, many natural materials – the list goes on. There are also other areas that you could consider in terms of cost reduction such as a wake at home after the ceremony, no order of service cards, fewer pallbearers or choosing not to embalm.
Cremation versus burial
Interestingly, Woodlands Memorial based in north Bristol recorded that they saw around 30% of funerals in 2023 as an alternative celebration of life ceremony with ashes being buried instead of an actual burial. Cremations have traditionally been a way to minimise land use and are cheaper than a burial, although burials are environmentally better because they do not burn gas. These are other factors to consider as well as your budget.
You may also want to consider a Celebrant for not only a funeral but also for a celebration of life. A Celebrant can conduct a tailored and personalised ceremony in any location after the direct cremation and at a time that is right for the family which may be at a later date in their grief journey.
Planning a funeral
The reality of life is that we know we are all going to die, and we are starting to see a rise in people not only planning their own funerals, but also budgeting to ensure that funds are available. The Coffin Club are a social franchise and training organisation that is passionate about revolutionising the funeral industry. They have an excellent resource on their website for planning your own funeral which costs £50 and is well worth a look. You may also want to consider a funeral plan as well.
Opening up the conversation around death and dying
What is also important to mention is the topic of death and dying. We should be starting those discussions earlier about what our loved ones want when they do very sadly pass and what their wishes are. A colleague and Celebrant friend, Katie Costello, has started some brilliant conversations recently around death and dying. Her expertise, passion and knowledge is superb and I can highly recommend her course Dying for a Cuppa which is invaluable in terms of content and education.
A funeral or celebration of life is often for those who are left behind and they may not actually be the wishes of those who are deceased, but often the family and friends do want to have an event or celebration to mark the person’s passing and a place to go where they can remember with love.
There are myriad choices available to you and it is key that knowledge and education is so very important to continue to raise awareness around this very important topic.