Funerals can be ouchily expensive. And for many families, particularly during a cost-of-living crisis, the cost of dying feels like the cruellest blow on top of everything else they’ve been through.
Nobody wants to feel ‘cheap’ when it comes to saying farewell to a loved one. Visions of a bargain bucket coffin, a soulless ceremony read by someone rattling through a template, or plastic flowers, can be the stuff of nightmares.
Here’s the good news: It is possible to celebrate a life on a budget without compromising on the uniqueness and quality of the farewell. Funerals can be beautiful, meaningful, and deeply personal while remaining cost-effective. What’s most important is the amount of thought put into it rather than the amount of money spent on it.
Let’s explore some options!
7 ideas for saving money on a funeral whilst still keeping it unique and creative
1. Set a realistic budget
Once you know how much you have to spend, you are in a better position to make choices without being pushed into any decisions just because it’s ‘the done thing’ or there’s an over-enthusiastic sales push going on at the local funeral directors.
2. Burial or cremation
Whether a person is buried or cremated normally depends on their wishes of course but, if you have the choice, cremation is normally a lot cheaper than burial. However, with both options, you are not tied to having a funeral service in any particular place.
Some families have a simple burial and then hold a celebration of life or memorial (whatever they want to call it!) later on, perhaps with a picnic at the graveside. Or some of the natural burial grounds offer a peaceful chapel space where a longer funeral ceremony can be held. Clayton Wood Natural Burial Ground in Hassocks is a lovely example of this, as is Clandon Wood near Guildford. However, burial does remain a much pricier option.
‘Direct cremation’ (i.e. when a person is cremated without a ceremony at the crematorium) is becoming more and more popular as people start to realise the options available to them and create personal ceremonies of memorial, sometimes with the ashes on display instead of a coffin.
3. Think about what is important to you about this funeral
It’s very easy, especially when you’re grieving and busy doing all the things, to go down the traditional ‘this is what a funeral involves’ route. There’s nothing wrong per se with that of course, but often I hear people say that, in hindsight, they felt rushed and/or their ceremony felt like a bit of a compromise (especially if they were tight on time or money).
Setting aside half an hour or so to look at the big picture of what you want the occasion to look and feel like is important. Your decisions here will be your north star as you’re navigating the funeral arrangements and wrangling the budget. Here are some good starters for your thought process.
And you can find some inspiration about alternative ways to celebrate a life here.
4. Chuck out what’s not important
Once you know the top things that are most important to you about the funeral (whether that’s gathering all 300 of their closest friends together, having a good celebrant to hold the space as you share stories, celebrating their love of music, or just being able to sit quietly with your nearest and dearest to say a quiet and private goodbye) you will be able to eliminate the costly unimportant things.
You might, for example, not want an expensive floral display because you’ll be covering the coffin instead with the amazing colourful patchwork quilts they made, or some highlights of their extensive hat collection.
You could save a lot of money on catering afterwards by having an informal ‘bake off’ with guests using your person’s treasured recipe book for inspiration as to what to bring.
Do you really need limousines? Orders of service? A fancy coffin? Again, there’s nothing wrong with any of these of course if you’ve actively chosen them. But many people afterwards realise that they rather sleepwalked into having some things because they were part of a package, ‘the done thing’, or they were victim to a bit of sneaky sales shaming.
Make a game of spotting all the expensive ‘shoulds’ you can happily wave goodbye to and cheerfully chuck them away!
5. Think about your venue
Crematoria can be useful in that they have easy parking, space for lots of people and they’re geared up for music, slideshows and webcasts. However, they have limited ceremony timeslots – often just 20-30 minutes – and they can be eye-wateringly expensive.
Whilst they are convenient, they are not obligatory, so don’t just assume that you will be holding your ceremony there without thinking a little more broadly first.
Some funeral directors have their own chapel facilities, which are normally cheaper, much more flexible on timings, and sometimes offer catering as well. These can offer a fabulous ‘blank canvas’ for a creative approach to the ceremony.
If there are quite a large number of you, it’s worth checking out local wedding venues to see whether they can offer a space for you (hint – it’s a good sign if they offer wakes or private parties on their website). In Worthing, we are so lucky to have a number of fantastic venues that can be used for funeral ceremonies, including Cissbury Barns, Long Furlong Barn, Southlands Barn and Two Woods. These often end up working out cheaper than having a ceremony at the crem and then going on to a catered wake afterwards. And don’t be afraid to ask your funeral director to do the sorting out.
If, however, there are fewer numbers (or you have access to a large house with plenty of parking), you can always hold your celebration of life at your home or the person’s home. Increasingly, I’m conducting celebrations of life for people in their homes, where their person has had a direct cremation and they can take a little longer to organise the perfect occasion without being rushed.
6. Do some window shopping
You are not obliged to use the funeral director who is just around the corner from you. Neither are you obliged to use the funeral director who has taken care of your loved one’s body for now. In fact, you’re not actually obliged to use a funeral director at all but many people find they make the logistics a whole lot easier.
If you know someone in the funeral industry locally, they will be a good person to ask for insider recommendations (or places to avoid). And ask around your local friends, family and contacts about their funeral experiences – who to use, who not to use, what are the local options and so on.
This doesn’t have to be just funeral directors, it could include celebrants, florists, caterers and any other services you think you might want to use.
Funeral directors in the UK by law have to display their prices in their windows and on their websites, so this may save you some time with price comparison. However, do bear in mind that these are often guide prices and the actual cost might end up being higher, so use the info you get in order to make a shortlist and then contact your top three.
7. Don’t be in a rush
You don’t have to do all of this right now. If it all feels too much, set a date in the next few months for a celebration of life and opt for a simple burial or direct cremation. You’ll have more time to gather your thoughts, do your research and start to think a bit more creatively. You don’t have to do everything so soon after your person dies. There are no rules and the most important thing is to look after yourself at such a tough time.
You’ve got this.
(And if you need a celebrant, I’m happy to talk.)