Death & Dying: The high cost of funerals

By Richard Snowden

There are no guarantees in life, save for death and taxes.

Of the two, death may be the more expensive for many.

Traditional funeral arrangements typically cost in the range of $6,500 to $8,500, said Sam Finch, co-owner of Ronan-Moore-Finch Funeral Home, 310 Oak St.

“You could spend upwards of $40,000 just on a casket,” Finch said.

Jim Quiram, owner of Quiram Funeral Directors in Sycamore, Genoa and Kirkland, said funeral expenses can vary widely based on consumers’ choices.

“The cost is determined by the number of elements in a funeral, such as choice of casket, casket materials, whether a visitation is held on a different day than the funeral service,” Quiram said. “It typically varies quite a bit based on those kinds of factors.”

The costs can also be exacerbated by a wide variety of add-ons, which are known in the industry as cash advances.

“Families usually write us a single check and we do all the small-check writing,” Finch said. “We write checks to the cemetery, the minister, the organist, for example.

“Some families want us to take care of the flowers for them, a funeral luncheon, death certificates, things like that. Those are what we call cash advances, and they can add up anywhere from an extra $1,000 to $1,500 or $2,000.”

For people who prefer a simpler, less expensive option, cremation can offer a viable alternative.

“If you had the same elements for a cremation service as for a traditional funeral, our cremation service would typically be about two-thirds the cost of a traditional funeral,” Quiram said. “If the cremation was no more than simply picking up the body, performing the cremation and returning the remains, the cost would probably be less than one-third of what a traditional funeral would cost.”

Despite the sizeable fees, Quiram said most people do not have difficulty covering their funeral bills.

“Payment is usually not a problem for people since most pay with life insurance or monies from their estate,” he said.

Planning ahead also helps reduce the trauma associated with the loss of a loved one, said Robin Moremen, an associate professor of sociology at NIU and an expert on death and dying.

“In many cases, people make arrangements in advance for taking care of the costs of a funeral,” Moremen said. “That can help alleviate the additional emotional problems that can arise from the high costs associated with funerals.”

Unlike most other industries, where costs tend to rise over time, Quiram believes funeral services are less costly compared with the recent past.

“I don’t think funerals are more expensive today. In fact, they’re less expensive than 10 years ago,” he said. “I think there’s been some consolidation in funeral homes, making them cheaper to operate, and those savings have been passed on to consumers.”

Finch expressed a different opinion on the matter.

“Probably 10 years ago, an $8,000 funeral would probably have cost around $4,000 to $6,000,” he said. “Again, it’s all dependent on what the people picked out, but [funeral costs] are probably doubling every 10 years.”

Editor’s note: This is the first installment of a two-part series examining death and its affiliated costs.