The take away from the recent NPR stories on the funeral industry is that consumers should preplan their funerals to control costs, and if the objective is to compare funeral homes and their prices then plan to visit each prospective funeral home.

The first story reports on a widow who spent more than $7,000 on a cremation package.  The widow had never planned a funeral, and had not given thought to her husband’s arrangements until prompted by the hospital on the day of his death.  Relying on name recognition of a local funeral home, the widow and her family went to that funeral home and chose a cremation package.  NPR’s investigation found that the funeral home was controlled by a national death care company that owned several funeral homes and a cremation society in the widow’s community, and that each location offered cremation packages that were cheaper than the one purchased by the widow and her family.  NPR suggested that the widow could have saved thousands of dollars by going to one of the company’s other locations.

The story went on to advise that direct cremation services offer consumers a way to compare funeral homes’ prices, and questioned whether the different prices charged by each of the company’s funeral homes were misleading or inappropriate.  But when input was sought from an industry representative, the reporter referenced both package arrangements and direct cremation services.  The story’s shifts between direct cremations and package cremations probably clouded the issues for consumers.

The price charged for direct cremation services includes funeral home overhead and a targeted amount of profit.  Overhead can vary dramatically from funeral home to funeral home.  The same is true even for the different funeral homes owned and operated by the national death care companies.

Package arrangements also differ from funeral home to funeral home.  Funeral homes typically offer multiple package options.  Accordingly, it will be difficult for consumers to compare package arrangements to determine which funeral home is ‘cheaper’.  As the story suggests, funeral homes offer packages because consumers tend to spend more on a package than when they purchase services a la carte.   While the package is cheaper than purchasing each service and piece of merchandise a la carte, the package includes a service or a merchandise item that may not otherwise be purchased by the family.

But, the primary reason funeral homes offer packages is because families want to shorten, or even avoid, the arrangement process.   The arrangement process requires dozens of decisions at a time when the mind and heart are somewhere else.  Preplanning the funeral is the only way to avoid the stress of the arrangement process.

Here is the link to the NPR story “You can pay thousands less for a funeral just by crossing the street”.

Next we will look at NPR’s story about funeral prices are still unclear.