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Can costs be cut?

Would your clients consider renting a coffin for a cremation? Or would you be prepared to host campaigns to raise funeral funds on your company website? These are just two of the methods US funeral directors are starting to adopt to help clients reduce funeral costs.

The ‘rental casket’ option is one that the majority of US funeral firms already offer for cremations and it comes in at a significant saving on the average American casket.

The body is put into a simple container, which is placed inside the cushioned, more expensive casket. That is what mourners see at the actual ceremony and the body never comes into contact with the casket itself. After the ceremony, the inner shell is slid or lifted out of the outer casket to be cremated, while the rental casket can be reused.

Crowdfunding is already starting to be a payment option for funerals here, but it is big business in the US. Funeral funding is among the most popular sections on some crowdfunding websites, with the average amount raised on GoFundMe topping $2,200, an average individual donation of $65.

While this is obviously something that bereaved people can set up on their own, one site – Funeralfund – which is dedicated to funding funerals only, has linked up with funeral homes by creating a partnership programme. A partner firm gets its own page to host all its campaigns in one location.

But would either scheme work here?

Well, the cost of funerals is undoubtedly topical. Rarely a week passes without the mainstream media running a story about the cost of dying. Public health (so-called paupers') funerals cost local councils £1.7m; councillors are ‘exploiting grief’ by increasing burial and cremation charges; 2.7 million people have taken out credit to pay for funerals. These are just the most recent stories – and many others include funeral directors en masse in the ‘blame’ camp.

Meanwhile, the Social Fund Funeral Payment, meant to provide a safety net for those in straitened circumstances, is deemed not ‘fit for purpose’ by both the funeral world and MPs. Apart from taking too long organise, its ceiling of £700 for expenses has not kept pace with inflation and is way out of line with the £3,500 cost of the average funeral.

Of course, funeral directors are already taking action to address the situation, with almost all firms offering a pared down cheaper service. A small but growing number of businesses are also offering low-cost, no-frills funeral options online, and around 10% of UK funeral directors have signed up to the charity Quaker Social Action’s Fair Funerals pledge, under which funeral directors agree to make their most affordable funeral package clear, including third party costs.

But, with the public becoming more aware of direct funerals, thanks to David Bowie’s recent choice to be cremated without ceremony, as well as other ways to cut funeral costs – early morning crematorium slots, cheaper transport or coffins, ordering online or eschewing funeral directors’ services altogether – schemes that can help keep costs down are worthy of consideration.

While people continue to be uncomfortable around the idea of death and only too happy to leave everything to funeral directors, the profession’s skills, knowledge, service and compassion will be necessary. However, perhaps maybe, there are a few things they can add to their repertoire ...

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