New Zealanders are spending millions of dollars unnecessarily on funerals, according to the owner of a new funeral planning website.
An estimated $284 million was spent on funerals in the country last year. Statistics New Zealand figures show 31,608 people died and the Citizens Advice Bureau puts the cost of an average funeral at between $8000 and $10,000.
Fresh Funerals owner Jude Mannion said the cost of a funeral could be halved by hiring a casket or buying an eco casket, foregoing any embalming and having family or friends organise flowers and catering.
She said her website allowed families to sit at home and make funeral decisions online without pressure, the same way many other things are purchased.
Ms Mannion has headed New Zealand and Asian Pacific operations of major companies such as Elizabeth Arden, Kellogg's and Hallmark. After 20 years of corporate life, she moved on to establish charitable foundations The Robin Hood Foundation NZ, The Mekong Club Hong Kong to fight slavery in Asia, and The Pacemaker Trust International.
Ms Mannion 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 casket purchased from a funeral home might cost $3000. However, funeral homes could arrange to hire a casket for around $500. Eco caskets which didn't harm the environment could be purchased for around the same price.
She said embalming quotes ranged from $500 to $1000. She estimated at least 70 per cent of bodies were embalmed, meaning New Zealanders were spending more than $16 million 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 informed decisions and it was always best discussed with a trained professional, he said.
Mr Botherway said a deceased 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.
"Modern embalming is just today's manifestation of that natural human trait," he said.
Ms Mannion said she would be prototyping the world's first 3D printed coffin shortly, and was waiting on a design sample for a 100 per cent woven recycle cotton coffin.
She has also just released an "autumn range" of fabric covered coffins. The coffins were cardboard structures covered in cotton, she said.