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Cash for ash. Counting the cost of death

How do you know if you’re getting good value for a funeral?  You can’t exactly compare and contrast.  Or maybe you can – and it would seem you should.  As The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) announces an inquiry into the cost of funerals, an  investigation into the online and pricing structures of the big providers, and the efficacy of pre-paid funeral plans, it has set me thinking about the price of death.

types of dementia 300x300According to the CMA the price of funerals has run away with itself, with an average 6% increase in the basic costs every year for the last decade.  The average price of a funeral is £4,271, and that is before you’ve put a card behind the bar for the wake.

Crematoria fees have seen a whopping 84% increase in cost during the same time.  Where has all this money gone? Certainly not on the crematoria estate. I have had the luck to visit a few recently.

They all seem to be out of a different age set in a time warp of unimaginative utilitarian design and brutal functionality; 30 minute slots per cremation with mourners gently hustled in and out to keep to time.  The most exciting innovation seemed to be a big screen in the chapel to play videos during the service.

And if you’ve tried to arrange a cremation you may have found that it’s hard to get a date and time that suits.  There aren’t enough of them.  Someone must be burning through the money rather than investing it in crematoria people might actually like and even want to visit.  Or maybe that’s the point.  30 minute slots.

AdobeStock 96938225I’m sure that some funerals are too expensive, but how much should a funeral cost, and how do you know when a funeral is good value? Do black horses with plumes pulling glass carriages trump sombre men in bowler hats; or does a willow basket and a natural burial ground add a different kind of value?

We judged Mum’s cremation and service first on how we felt it reflected her, and how it reflected our desire to do the best for her.  We didn’t ask too much about the costs.  We were too focussed on other things.  The cost was a consideration but as part of giving her the best of send offs.

Even in death we worried about her claustrophobia so ensured she was in a basket rather than a coffin; her favourite colours were in the flowers which by chance and not our design were the length of her basket – lucky she was only 5ft 2.  But if she had been 6ft 4 I’m not sure it would have mattered, the state we were in.

For most of us a funeral is the ultimate distress purchase, made at a time of particular vulnerability.   It comes wrapped up with a whole range of emotions and I’m sure like us the over-riding need to feel that you’re “doing the right thing”.   For less than scrupulous providers this must be a golden opportunity.

dementiasleepdisordersOur Funeral Director was the total opposite and worth his weight in gold.  Not just for the practical execution of Mum’s cremation and service, which were perfect, but more importantly the way he and his team looked after Dad, so compassionate and kind, gently leading him through every grim step and bit of admin that needed to be done.

David Bowie made it easy for Iman by opting for a “pure cremation” – no service or ceremony but straight to the crem. So minimal fuss and financial outlay.

As death is one of the few certainties in life I imagine we could all undertake, pun intended, a certain amount of advance planning and even put some money aside for the big day.  I shall be opting for a David Bowie version, not least because it will mean a few more quid behind the bar.

Some of our best tips for arranging a funeral/cremation:

  • Try and have the conversations about what THEY would like ahead of time – it’s really hard to second guess someone’s wishes once they’ve gone
  • There is lot’s of paperwork, and lots to think about – you might not be in the best frame of mind – so ask for help and spread the load
  • The costs of a funeral come out of the deceased’s estate which can help with the immediate financial burden
  • You might find this website useful –


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