Paraphernalia makes death an expensive business

The grandeur of the funeral industry is being sidestepped as ever more people opt for something a little on the cheaper side. Thought about a cardboard coffin?
  • @EmilyJupp

I've been thinking a lot about death lately. Not in a morbid, metaphysical way. More in a practical way. It just seems to cost so much. Like the wedding industry, the funeral industry is an expensive business, inflated by unnecessary pomp and circumstance. The most recent estimate says it rakes in £1.5bn each year. Like taxes, of course, it's something we'll all have to pay for, sooner or later. But what's the point? Isn't spending loads on your funeral just like planning a massive party that you don't even get to attend?

A new survey, carried out by app provider iFuneral shows that the grandeur of the funeral business is being sidestepped for something more austere, with around 25% of people saying they would rather have a cardboard coffin than a traditional casket. But even that could set you back around £400, according to Dominic Maguire, media spokesperson at the National Association of Funeral Directors, who explains that there were some er...technical difficulties with the earlier, cheaper prototypes: "The problem was that the bottoms kept falling out of them", he says, "and the glue they were using wasn't biodegradable."

Like weddings, all the things we traditionally think of as being part and parcel of the ceremony – the reception, the flowers, the transport, the embalming – add cost, and aren't always essential. Although, unless you want take revenge on your congregation from beyond the grave, a sturdy coffin is a must. Anne Widdup of Fuze Ceremonies, which offers humanist celebrations and funerals, says a lot of what's sold to you or your relatives is unnecessary bumph and baggage. "There's a lot of paraphernalia that's invented by the funeral business, and people don't realise that," she says.

Apparently, where you decide to take your last breath drastically affects the cost too. According to Maguire, a bog standard London funeral will set you back far more than one in Inverness or Newport. So, if you feel death's cold fingers clasping you, hop on a train to somewhere far flung, and cost-effective. Also, expire close to a burial ground or crematorium, to cut down the post-mortem transport costs, and, if it's not too much trouble, try to die within 48 hours of the funeral, then you won't have to pay for embalming.

So what's the absolute bargain basement funeral you can get? Widdup reckons it should be possible for around £1,500, all in. "You can have something simple, but dignified" she explains. The other option is to do it yourself, says Maguire. "The easiest way to get a really budget funeral is to pick up the remains and take them to the crematorium or cemetery yourself", he says.

Or, as you're likely to be otherwise engaged on the day, get a friend or relative to do it for you.