Funeral Industry News

Economy Takes Toll on Funeral Planning

September 23, 2009

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Economy Takes Toll on Funeral Planning

Recession stresses have changed the way many in the Rochester community look at life.

And death, too.

Local funeral homes, cemeteries, florists and ancillary businesses report that families are trying, with the consideration due their departed, to economize.

The coping is evident on the business end, too, as funeral directors, florists and others feel the pinch.

The advice most funeral directors provide? Think ahead, speak candidly as a family and match economy with dignity.

A traditional funeral, with calling hours in a flower-bedecked viewing room, high-end coffin and burial vault, cemetery plot and other services, costs on average between $6,000 and $8,000.

Many families pre-plan funeral costs, making payments on contracts well in advance of need. But with job losses and credit woes, the ability to take on another monthly expense is strained, funeral home owners said.

It’s painful, one said, to take phone calls from people who desperately want the dignity of a well-appointed funeral but have nowhere near the money to pay for it.

“There’s been a definite change,” said Edward Miller, whose family has owned and managed Miller Funeral Homes in Rochester for 120 years.

The move to cremation over burial has been apparent for years, Miller said. Cremation can reduce the cost of a funeral by half, and Miller said the use of that option has spiked in the past year.

“More and more I’m seeking families who want the calling hours with a viewing and a rented casket and cremation afterward,” Miller said. Families don’t want to give up the solace and closure that a traditional wake provides while saving on the cost of the coffin and burial.

Miller said he’s noticed that some local funeral homes are demanding payment up front rather than taking a down payment and billing later for expenses. “They’re concerned that people won’t pay,” he said. “I still do it the old way, though sometimes I will want payment first when I get a sense that there might be a problem.”

Miller said that he has to write off $20,000 a year in uncompensated funeral costs. “I expect that number will be higher this year.”

Funeral homes specializing in religious rites have noticed less economizing, as families prefer to stick to prescribed ways rather than pursue savings.

Jarrod Krieger, owner of the Brighton Memorial Chapel, which serves the region’s Jewish community, said his clientele sticks to the old ways.

“Though I have noticed that families will take longer to get permanent grave markers,” he added. “They’ll get temporary ones and then renew rather than pay for the permanent one.”

As families look for ways to cut costs without detracting from the dignity of a traditional service, florists have been a particular target.

“When in the past people might get two or three or more displays, now they’ll have one,” said Martha Morin of the Justice Flower Shop in Hilton.

Families will reduce flower costs by $200, and that’s a serious loss of revenue for shops doing many funerals over the course of a year.

“I’ve cut back on labor,” Morin said.

“I hope this changes when the recession ends. Because right now, people can’t afford it.”

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