Funeral costs: The rising cost of dying

By Cassandra Mason, news@dailypost.co.nz -
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Very few Kiwis plan for their own goodbye, and hefty funeral bills are the last thing families want to think about when losing a loved one. Cassandra Mason investigates how a little preparation can help you cut costs during a traumatic time

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Soaring costs of a standard New Zealand burial are prompting leaders in the funeral industry to speak out.

The Government recently agreed to look at the rising unaffordability of funerals after the industry raised concerns about the costs of giving loved ones a proper send-off.

Funeral Directors Association of NZ (FDANZ) chief executive Katrina Shanks met with Social Development Minister Paula Bennett about the growing gap between basic funeral costs and Work and Income's $2000 funeral grant.

The minister has since asked for work to be done on funeral affordability.

What is the problem?

Escalating costs can mostly be attributed to inflating cemetery fees being charged by councils - which are increasing up to 600 per cent year-on-year in some regions, Mrs Shanks said.

"FDANZ appreciates that the [WINZ] grant is designed to make a contribution towards the cost of a funeral, but we believe the gap between actual costs and the grant has become too great for too many people.

"We have concerns that due to the cost of burials, those with few means will not have the choice to be buried and may have to be cremated against their wishes."

About 70 per cent of people who die in New Zealand are cremated - many out of financial necessity, she said.

"The cost of being buried takes that choice away ... especially from those with religious and cultural reasons who can't afford to be buried."

What does a funeral cost?

According to the Funeral Directors Association, the average cost of a funeral is between $6500 and $7000.

Coffins range from about $1000 to $10,000, while plot fees vary wildly depending on where you are.

Mrs Shanks says fees for council-controlled burial plots are "outrageous" - with digging alone costing up to $1200.

For example, a Rotorua burial plot in the children's section in 2011 was $193. Now it costs $1569, she says.

A plot in Meadowbank in Auckland costs $5000, while a similar one in Carterton costs about $700.

But while these expenses can't be controlled, other aspects of the funeral can.

Alternatives to a standard burial

- Cremation

The difference in cost between being buried and cremated is "significant", Mrs Shanks says.

A relative has to complete an application to have this done, but cremation should cost about $600-$700. Ashes can be kept in an urn or scattered.

- Get buried at sea

New Zealand has specific areas of coastline designated to burials at sea. There are no internment costs but it is an arduous process for which a resource consent is required. A number of ministries and Maritime NZ will have to authorise it.

- Natural burial

According to Consumer NZ, bodies can be buried close together in "natural cemeteries", which have no headstones and are usually planted with trees. Bodies are not embalmed and are usually buried in a shroud or an untreated wooden coffin. Costs vary but this will cut out the cost of a headstone.

- Donate your body to science

Donating your body, or your organs, cuts funeral costs right down as no coffin, plot, cremation, or internment is needed. This will need to be arranged before death.

Plan ahead

Some compare funerals with weddings in terms of costs, but the fundamental difference is that most people don't plan for their own death. Only 5 per cent of Kiwis plan and pre-pay for their funerals, compared with 15 per cent in Australia and 50 per cent in the United States, Mrs Shanks says.

Money-saving funeral tips


- Pick flowers from the garden
- Make a DIY coffin or opt for an untreated pine or plywood coffin
- Hold the wake at home and make the food
- Provide the transport - a hearse isn't absolutely necessary
- Watch out for "extras" like videos and slideshows
Source: FDANZ, Consumer NZ

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