Are we paying too much for funerals?

By Victoria White, Kim Fulton

3 comments
The average coffin purchased from a funeral home costs around $3000.
The average coffin purchased from a funeral home costs around $3000.

Hawke's Bay people are spending thousands of dollars unnecessarily on funerals, according to the owner of a new funeral planning website.

They spent an estimated $13 million on funerals last year. Statistics New Zealand figures show 1468 died in the region and the Citizens Advice Bureau puts the cost of an average funeral at between $8000 and $10,000.

Hawke's Bay's DIY Coffin Club founder Grace Terry said people should start preparing for their own funeral far in advance to cut down on costs.

The estimated 80 members of the club meet weekly to do just that, by designing their own coffins.

Despite being made of the same material as expensive coffins, Ms Terry said through the club coffins only cost upwards of $400 depending on individual requirements.

After being assembled and lined with plastic, the owner or their friends and family are able to decorate it at the club's headquarters at Hastings' old netball centre.

Seeking out cheaper options or designing your own coffin was one way to reduce overall funeral costs, Ms Terry said.

"My advice to people is to shop around," she said.

"If someone is caught in that vulnerable time, there is no expense spared."

New funeral planning website Fresh Funerals owner Jude Mannion said people could halve the cost of a funeral by hiring a coffin or buying an eco-casket, foregoing any embalming and arranging the flowers and catering themselves.

She said her website allowed families to sit at home and make funeral decisions online without pressure, the same way they bought many other things.

She said she wanted families to understand their options when planning funerals. The website was an online planning tool which could give families quotes from several funeral homes to compare.

Ms Mannion said the average coffin purchased from a funeral home might cost $3000.

However, funeral homes could arrange to hire a coffin for about $500. Eco-caskets, which did not harm the environment, could be purchased for about the same price.

With an estimated 70 per cent of bodies being embalmed, and embalming quotes ranging from $500 to $1000, this meant Hawke's Bay people were spending more than $700,000 a year on embalming.

However, embalming was only necessary when there had been a traumatic death or illness and people still wanted to view the body, she said.

New Zealand Embalmers Association president Geoff Botherway said he did not believe families were spending unnecessarily on embalming. Many funeral companies did not charge an additional fee for embalming, he said.

Mr Botherway said every family should be given the opportunity to make an informed decision and it was always best discussed with a trained professional.

Mr Botherway said a body could deteriorate rapidly without embalming, making viewing unpleasant.

"This can have a profound effect on family and friends both emotionally and psychologically, and there is the question of the dignity of the deceased."

He said the purpose of embalming was to sanitise, preserve and present the body to allow family and friends time with the deceased without fear of decomposition.

He said viewing gave people the opportunity to confront the reality of their loss.

The body's natural propensity toward decay could have a devastating effect for many viewing an unprepared body.

"The detractors say that embalming is not normal behaviour.

"Wanting to be involved with the remains of our loved ones in the aftermath of their death is the most natural thing in the world," said Mr Botherway.

People had found ways through history to preserve the dead, he said.

"Modern embalming is just today's manifestation of that natural human trait."

- Hawkes Bay Today

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