Be smart – follow the money

Charles 4 Comments


Photo showing the viewing gallery at the Going Home Cremation Service, Maryland


In all so-called advanced cultures, funeral practices are becoming less elaborate. All this talk of baby boomers reinventing funerals as bespoke, themed, accessorised, more or less lavish performance events can seem to make good sense — but baby boomers, who by now have buried and cremated many thousands of parents, ain’t, experience now tells us, buying in to all that. Recession or no recession, the dying express the wish to keep it cheap and simple; and those left behind seem content to fall in with that. When people fall into conversations about funerals, the proudest boasts are made by those who spent least. 

Where a funeral dwindles to its essentials — the body of a dead person and the body of people who cared about him/her —  there’s not much margin for an undertaker. But where the expanding market is the one for cheap funerals, that’s where an undertaker needs to hang out. You need to do more funerals for less to make your business pay, of course – if you can get em in the first place. 

So the earnings ceiling for an undertaker is getting lower and lower. This is especially evident in the US, where once comfortably-off morticians have been banjaxed by the rush to cremation. Growing impoverishment ought to act as a disincentive to new entrants. But the market in Britain remains saturated with undertakers because they are motivated by vocation rather than acquisitiveness. Altruistic people thrive on adversity; it strengthens their humanitarian resolve and enhances their sense sainthood.

Which is why the smart money is now increasingly going into crematoria and natural burial grounds of 20 acres+. Here profits remain fattening. Dignity and the Co-op are moving in bigtime. Bibby, the corp behind GreenAcres, is showing no interest in buying out undertakers. 

There’s a race on to buy out council-owned crematoria and build new ones – they’re going up everywhere. Here’s a bubble that’s going to end in rubble. Where low cost scores highest with consumers, and at a time when funeral poverty is stalking the land, it won’t be long before people wise up to the fact that the cheapest cremation provider is the one who cremates most economically by blazing round the clock 365 days a year (not 250 as at present) in a standalone plant with a viewing gallery set in a very few nicely appointed acres. There’s nothing to stop anyone from building one of these now. In the US they’re called crematories. That’s what we need: crematories, not more crematoria. 

By how much would efficient cremation bring down funeral costs? The US gives us some idea. You can arrange a direct cremation in New York for £860 including all undertaker’s fees. The cremation part of that comes to just £265. In Florida you can buy the complete direct cremation package for £525. In Maryland, using a particularly nice-looking crematory, you can buy the complete package for £618. And in San Diego you can do the whole thing for just £416 all in. 

Go figure, Bibby. You read it here first. Send us a bung when it all comes good. 




  1. Charles

    Rich or poor, boom or recession, simplicity is often linked to good taste. But dignified restraint isn’t necessarily low cost. Minimalist coffins and flowers can exude understated luxury.

    Here’s an interesting piece from the International Herald Tribune about modern Russian marriages and funerals.

    In the 20th century, the country went from Orthodox church weddings to civil ceremonies involving a red sashed comrade registrar initiating the couple as a new unit of the socialist state. A post-Soviet trend is a departure from both Christianity and communist atheism.

    I’m sure this isn’t widespread but the piece describes wedding ceremonies now involving game show-style gimmicks such as the couple having to pick each other out of two line-ups of potential grooms and brides draped in bed sheets.

    Funerals of the suspiciously rich also compensate for past deprivations with a celebration of excess: grandiose tombstones, jewel-studded coffins and a trend towards being buried with favourite status symbols such as the keys to the BMW.

    The piece concludes: ‘It’s very hard for an entire society to live without knowing how to act at life’s key junctures’.

    Communism tried to deprive people of religion and consumerism as an expression of individuality. It failed wholeheartedly. In ‘advanced’ British culture, secularism has evolved more naturally. Demand for the bespoke can be bling or low-key, with a bit of tradition and a bit of novelty.

  2. Charles

    I’m not so sure that funerals are an expression of consumerism so much as an expression of status anxiety. Just as the overblown American funeral is a typical immigrant funeral (I came, I saw, I made it), Russian excesses of vulgarity and sentimentality characterise the nouveau riche. In Britain, the Victorian funeral was symptomatic of the rising wealth of a competitive middle class. Today, it is those who are least able to afford it who like to spend the most and disguise their poverty. Confident people don’t feel they need to make a splash.

    Actually, the account of the Russian funeral seems to be more an expression of a culture at ground zero.

  3. Charles

    One of the reasons that the cost of direct cremation in the US is cheaper than the UK may well be down to the difference in the emission regulations and requirements. As far as I am aware, the UK requirements are now far higher than their American counterparts – with the obvious installation cost difference.

    The ‘working life’ of a cremator is also a factor. The linings of a retort will not allow continous use 24/7, and so downtime has to be factored in to the equation. Plus, the complexity and quality of installations in the UK tend to exceed the American norm.

    The cost of actual cremation is still far too high in many areas of the UK, but it’s debatable whether the overall cost of providing an alternative format could work out much cheaper in the long run. But lets hope so…

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>