From rags to riches

Charles Cowling


Whether or not funerals are too expensive depends on how much money you’ve got and how you like to spend it. Some like to say it with a Batesville casket, mountains of flowers, a fleet of vintage Bentleys, prancing horses, a military band, the Red Arrows—the sky’s the limit. If you’ve got lots of dough to blow and, therewith, administer a little fiscal stimulus to some local service providers, that would seem to be wholly unobjectionable.

Others prefer something simpler. Of those, a significant proportion urgently need something simpler. If you are jobless and skint, no disgrace in times like these, the Social Fund will pay up to £700 towards the cost of a funeral. But you can’t get a mainstream funeral at anything like that price. The average cost of a simple funeral is £1050 and that doesn’t include disbursements, which will eat up £500+. You’d be paying off the balance for what would feel like eternity. The Social Fund will only cough up after the funeral. No wonder so many undertakers are refusing to take on clients who need to apply to it. They think they may never get paid.
What advice for such as you?

First, understand that you can accomplish the really important purposes of a funeral for very little. The most important part of the process, the farewell ceremony, needn’t cost you a penny. Do it yourself.

Second, get rid of the trappings: the hearse, the cars, the banks of flowers. Does this mean doing away with dignity? Of course not. Dignity is how you behave, not stuff you rent.

What’s going to cost? The burial or cremation will cost a few bob. Cremation is a lot cheaper. For that, you’ll have to stump up roughly £350-450 to the crematorium plus £147 for two doctors to pronounce your dead person dead. You’ll probably want to buy a coffin, though you could just wrap your dead person in a shroud of some sort. A coffin on ebay will set you back just £115 + £20 delivery. You’ll need a suitable vehicle to take your dead person to the place of disposal. Say goodbye to £700. Show a finger to the Social Fund.

There’s paperwork to do. No problem there. And there’s the small problem of what to do with the body while you wait for the funeral.

Most hospitals will keep a body in their mortuary for nothing if a person dies in the hospital. Some will even do the same for someone who has died at home. The alternative is to bring the body home, but the problem here is keeping it cool enough to delay decomposition. You can do your best, and screw the coffin lid down so as to keep any bad smells inside. But you may think it safer, if the hospital will not cooperate, to ask a funeral director to do all this. You will almost certainly find an independent funeral director to let you use their fridge (the bigger firms just aren’t geared to it). This may cost you up to £25 a day. On the day of the funeral, drive down to the hospital or the funeral director with your ebay coffin, pop your dead person inside, and off you go.

It’s an unconventional way of proceeding, for sure. Will your crematorium, hospital or, if you use one, funeral director treat you as if you were a bungling amateur and a bloody nuisance? Absolutely not. It’s a heartwarming fact, the sort of discovery that restores your faith in human nature, that most crematoriums can’t do enough for you. The same goes for hospital mortuaries where a small (customary) consideration, £10-20, will earn you even more goodwill. Even funeral directors (the smaller the better) will put themselves out for you. You really will be supported every inch of the way.

Not spending more than you have is vital. If you are brave and hardworking you can save £1,000 you never had. When it’s all over you may, because you courageously rolled your sleeves up, experience a species of satisfaction that the Red Arrows could never have given you. The same goes if you could have afforded it, but preferred to engage rather than outsource.

My apologies for the sudden reappearance of this old post. I’ve been doing a spot of categorising, resulting in the usual inexplicable nonsense, of which this is but one example.

3 thoughts on “From rags to riches

  1. Charles Cowling
    Jonathan

    I may have said this before but, in the spirit of repetition:

    I organized my mother’s second husband’s funeral in Scotland, working from home in Devon, with a local funeral director doing the very minimum of collecting, storing and delivering the body. I did all the rest, and it set me back £955, even with a discount of £120 on his professional fee.

    When my mother died, I did the same thing without a funeral director, leaving her body in the hospital mortuary and picking her up in my estate car on the day, thereby saving £955 (less £20 folding stuff for the mortuary attendant).

    So, exemplar contemporanio (ages since I did Latin but I’ve got Charles to compete with here!): it can be done in this day and age.


    Charles Cowling
  2. Charles Cowling
    Death Matters

    No worries, Charles, I also hadn’t read it – and would never have unless it had popped up again!

    All good sensible advice as far as I’m concerned – your advantage is that you have nothing to gain by blowing costs up unnecessarily/meaninglessly. Not true for so much else one reads…


    Charles Cowling
  3. Charles Cowling
    gloriamundi

    No need for apologies, Charles, I hadn’t read it. Thanks. You are a voice of sanity and balance in what often seems an increasingly mad world (or is it me? No answers required)and this is a really useful post. In the best spirit of the GFG.


    Charles Cowling

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