Avoiding high funeral costs: 8 reasons why we pay too much

Funeral costs can leave a family locked into an unexpected debt that they may need to pay off for years. From paying for ashes to orbit the earth to paying for strippers and professional grievers or top of the range (read ‘expensive’) coffins, the living often end up spending too much for funerals. The best way to avoid high funeral costs this is to know your funeral options; make choices that you feel will reflect your life, then write it all down and discuss it with your loved ones. That frees everyone up from any sense of obligation to go all out (unless that’s what you want and you’ve left the funds to cover it!) Check out this list and work out ways to get around the traps so your memory of your loved one’s funeral leaves you warm and fuzzy, not empty and resentful.

1. PROOF OF LOVE. Often high funeral costs can come out of a sense of guilt for not doing enough while the person was alive. It’s far better to be there for the person while they are alive. If you can’t or haven’t let it go. Paying for an expensive bash won’t make you feel better; it will probably make you feel resentful.

2. LACK OF RESEARCH. Because dying is still a taboo subject in Western society, we don’t actually know our options, which can boost funeral costs. Many people think they can’t have a DYI funeral; that they have to go with whatever the funeral director says. That’s not the case today. You can design your funeral to reflect your loved one’s unique personality and be empowered to drive the event. But you simply can’t do this if you haven’t researched your local and legal options. TIP: Don’t wait until the person has died to research options as your grief may be overwhelming and limit your capacity to . Start planning now!

3. POOR PLANNING. You may feel that you want doves released, a bagpipe playing, a cardboard coffin etc., for your final fling, but check out the actual cost of having your fantasy funeral. Even cardboard coffins cost way more than you think. TIP: Planning way beforehand gives us choices and can help keep the costs down.

4. FEAR OF LOOKING CHEAP OR DIFFERENT. Funeral sales literature commonly refers to a ‘traditional’ funeral package, which basically means one funeral looking just like the next. Think ‘What type of funeral would I have for me/mum/… if I had no fear?’ Don’t let an opportunity go by to celebrate and honour the uniqueness of the person who had died because you worry about what other people will think. TIP: Reflect on funerals you’ve been to that you felt were honouring of the person who died and take note of what things you enjoyed – chances are they’ll be unique and different elements.

5. WORRYING ABOUT STATUS. In some cultures status is so entrenched that families pay a fortune for strippers and professional ‘grievers’ (people paid to cry at a funeral) and expensive wakes. Unless you’re having a state funeral, the best way to show your true status in the community is by having a quality (doesn’t mean expensive) event that shows how much the person was loved and respected more through the words spoken than lavish commercial expressions of status (which equals high funeral costs).

6. GRIEF HELPLESSNESS. Many people feel so devastated and overwhelmed when someone they love dies that they hand over all the funeral planning to a funeral director. That’s understandable, when our grief cuts through our sense of empowerment to such a degree that sometimes we may not even care how the funeral unfolds. TIP: Once again, pre-planning, writing down our preferences, tips, guidance well in advance will help a grieving person to work through this emotionally-draining part of our life.

7. FAILING TO CHECK OUT THE INDUSTRY. If you live in the country, you may only have one funeral director (luckily for me, that one service has people filled with heart and respect) so you can’t shop around. But if you live in the city, you’ll have more than one option, so check out and compare coffin and funeral costs, the company’s ethos and how you feel when you speak with their representative. TIP: Funeral services are a commodity, so there’s no shame in shopping around for the option that best suits your needs, budget and cultural requirements.

8. NOT ASKING ENOUGH QUESTIONS. Australian Consumer Law protects a consumer’s right to choose only those funeral goods and services you want. TIP: Ask for a list of services with a funeral costs breakdown (coffin, cremation/burial, service/memorial, transport etc.) at the outset so you can take your time to decide what works for you and is within your budget.

Final note: Funeral Directors are people in business and they deserve to be paid for their services just like everyone else, but it is your responsibility as a consumer to make educated decisions and choices about the kind of funeral/memorial services that will meet the emotional, spiritual and financial needs of your family and to go with an ethically-priced service that will honour your choices with caring and dignity.

You can save your family much anxiety in their time of grief by researching, choosing and planning for your funeral well in advance – that’s the most loving legacy you can leave them.