Joshua Slocum "Shopping for Funeral is Smart"
Funerals are among the most expensive purchases consumers make. A traditional funeral can easily cost more than $6,500, not counting cemetery costs, which could add $2,000. For most purchases, that’s a price point that warrants extensive research and comparison shopping.
But that rarely happens with funerals.
It should, said Joshua Slocum, executive director of the Funeral Consumers Alliance and co-author of the new book, “Final Rights: Reclaiming the American Way of Death.”
“You might hear at a funeral home, ‘How can you put a price on how much you love your mother?’
“Well, that’s true. But turn it around and think to yourself, ‘If I spend according to how much I love my mother, I’d be bankrupt,’ ” Slocum said. “You need to remember that this is not just an emotional transaction. It’s a business transaction. We can’t show how much we love or respect the dead by how much money we spend on them.”
Although the funeral business doesn’t usually change much from generation to generation, some new developments are worth knowing about to be a smart consumer.
Cremation. Nearly 37 percent of all Americans who died in 2009 were cremated, according to the funeral industry’s most recent statistics. That’s up from 25 percent in 1999.
Cremation is becoming more socially acceptable, and it can cost a lot less than a traditional burial. Many people choose cremation because they and their extended family don’t have roots in the same area.
Alkaline hydrolysis. Everybody has heard about burial and cremation, but the funeral industry is in the very early stages of introducing a third option, alkaline hydrolysis. In essence, it uses lye to chemically dissolve body tissue.
The resulting brown liquid is poured off. Bones are then ground to an ash and can be kept by the family.
It’s not yet a common offering, and some states require legislation to make it legal. But it could become a more mainstream option likely to cost less than a traditional burial, more on par with cremation.
Some view it, derisively but somewhat accurately, as “flushing Grandma down the drain.” It’s likely to be controversial for a while, but it’s no more “icky or disgusting” or less dignified than bodies decomposing in the ground or being “burnt to a crisp,” Slocum said.
Going green. There’s growing interest in “green” funerals, experts say. It’s one of the motivations behind the funeral industry considering alkaline hydrolysis, which leaves a smaller environmental footprint than burial and cremation.
Green goes for burials, too, but funeral homes have different ideas about what constitutes an eco-friendly burial. Slocum said his definition would exclude chemical embalming, which usually isn’t necessary.
It would not include a coffin or casket, just a shroud or simple biodegradable box, like cardboard. He would eliminate a concrete vault.
“There’s a push out there among some in the industry to make green burial a premium-priced product that appeals to our snobbish side,” Slocum said. “What’s a green burial, really? It’s about what you don’t buy.”
Personalization. A traditional full-service funeral usually includes embalming, public viewing and a graveside ceremony.
“In a lot of areas, that’s far from typical anymore,” Slocum said. “People are moving the ceremony out of the funeral home and into places like parks and banquet centers,” he said, adding that such events usually don’t involve displaying the body.
“People are figuring out that they don’t need to hire an undertaker at traditional prices to have a memorial gathering.”
Prepare. The single most important thing you can do regarding your own funeral is to have a clear and specific conversation with loved ones about what you want in a funeral. It’s not to benefit you but to benefit survivors.
Know your rights. Consumer rights regarding funerals are dictated by federal law, called the Funeral Rule. Find details at http://www.tinyurl.com/funeralrule. Among the rights are price quotes by phone, a printed price list and the ability to pick only items and services you want and can afford. You don’t have to choose a bundled package.
Compare. Most consumers don’t shop for funeral products and services. Slocum said prices from 10 funeral homes in the same town are likely to vary by $2,000 for the same funeral. You can even shop for caskets online.
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