Cremation: It’s Not Just about Price

My husband and I have been married for about six and a half years now, and for many of those years we lived very, very frugally.

In those early years, my husband drove a 15-year-old car with 190,000 miles and no air conditioning. I checked Facebook and email on a Dell laptop I found on a super sale for $160. While many of our friends were on their third or fourth iPhone, we were still using flip phones. We didn’t pay for cable and watched the newest blockbusters only after they became available at our local library. We clipped coupons and shopped sales. And we made out like bandits on Black Friday.

When we got married, many of our relatives shared with us this piece of wisdom: Married couples argue about family and finances. Figure out those two things now, and you’ll be money ahead the rest of your life.

Fresh out of graduate school and facing a mountain of student loan debt, we didn’t want to be stressing over payments every month for the next 30 years. So, we organized an honest assessment of our finances. We crunched the numbers and made plans. By our fifth anniversary, we vowed, we would be done paying off student loans.

We made our last payment four years and 10 months later – and celebrated with one of our very first extravagances: an expensive bottle of champagne.

Our “frugality” was a reflection of a specific goal – a temporary lifestyle choice that was driven by our values. Our buying decisions had little to do with money. Instead, they were a reflection of how we prioritized intangible things like security, peace of mind and marital bliss. Even those decisions – which many would argue are entirely about price – were really about our values.

I think about those early years of marriage whenever I talk with funeral professionals about rising cremation rates. Without fail, the conversation turns to price – which is understandable, given the financial disparity between a casketed funeral and a direct cremation. However, as cremation rates continue to surpass those of burial, we’re seeing a trend away from cost-based motivators toward those that are rooted more deeply in personal values.

Homesteaders conducts a biennial policy owner survey to learn more about consumer preferences, motivations, behaviors and attitudes toward prearranging. The data we have received since our first survey in 2008 has been tremendously valuable in identifying why consumers decide to plan and fund their funerals in advance, and, for the last five years, that has included important insights into why consumers choose cremation.

In 2017, we asked respondents who identified cremation as their preferred method of disposition to select their primary motivation for doing so. More than half of respondents – 66% – listed qualitative motivators like personal preference, family tradition, environmental sustainability and aversion to burial as the main reason they selected cremation. While cost remains the single largest reason consumers choose cremation, it still accounts for less than half of those decisions. Homesteaders’ research shows that consumers are much more likely to be thinking about personal values when deciding which method of disposition is the right choice for their families.

We conducted a second survey alongside our latest policy owner study – this time, asking funeral professionals to share their perceptions of client families’ preferences and motivations. When we asked them why families choose cremation, 62% of funeral professionals listed cost as their client families’ primary motivation – nearly 20 points higher than what consumers report for themselves.

This tracks with our historic understanding of cremation – in the past, many funeral professionals assumed that families who select cremation for disposition did so solely to control the cost of end-of-life arrangements. As an unfortunate result, many funeral providers assumed that those families were only interested in low-cost options like direct cremation.

As the cremation rate has risen, however, more and more families are choosing cremation for reasons that have little to do with cost. This is good news for funeral providers – if families are truly choosing cremation for reasons outside of price, then cost is not likely to be a significant factor in the decisions about other goods and services purchased from your funeral home. In fact, research suggests that most cremation consumers will still elect to hold some sort of service for their loved one – and cost is often not a barrier.

When the Funeral and Memorial Information Council conducted their latest study measuring consumer attitudes toward ritualization and memorialization, they found that 82% of adults over age 40 believe a funeral service helps pay tribute to the life of a friend or family member. And, while 68 percent of respondents indicated a preference for cremation, only 14% of those individuals said they would opt out of a funeral or memorial service. The vast majority of cremation customers – 86% – still plan to have some sort of service, either before or after cremation.
Again, this is very positive for funeral professionals – it means you can confidently enter arrangement conferences assuming the family will want a service. More often than not, you will be right and those families will be better served by understanding all the options available to them.

That said, we still need to address the large portion of consumers who select cremation because it is a lower cost alternative. What do we do in those circumstances? I would suggest that – even when a consumer indicates a preference for the cost-savings associated with cremation – it’s still likely they will be interested in the other goods and services offered at your firm.

This was the case for my family when my grandmother passed away. We opted for cremation because it was a less expensive alternative, but not because we want a barebones service with no frills. My grandfather was on a budget, and he wanted to spend money where he perceived the most value – the visitation, funeral, graveside and luncheon. He ended up spending roughly the same amount as a casketed funeral, he just spent it in different places.

It’s the same situation my husband and I found ourselves in during those early years of marriage. We didn’t hoard our money – we put it toward what we felt mattered most at the time.

As funeral professionals, it’s easy to assume that families think about end-of-life plans the way you do. Cremation, for some of you, is tied to price. The rising rate has serious implications for your business. When you think of cremation, you may think of the gap between direct cremation and the income you would get from a casketed burial. When you look at CANA’s projections for the years ahead, you may worry over how you will cover your expenses if the nature of your business continues to shift.

But remember that buying habits – even ones that seem entirely about cost – are often motivated by values. You see cremation solely as a low-cost alternative, but that doesn’t mean your client families see it the same way. FBA


Danielle Burmeister, Homesteaders’ Marketing Communications Lead, joined the company in 2015. The daughter of two funeral professionals, she has firsthand knowledge of and a deep appreciation for the business as well as 10 years of marketing and communications experience. You can reach Danielle at [email protected]

By |2018-07-12T10:46:13+00:00July 12th, 2018|Editorial|Comments Off on Cremation: It’s Not Just about Price

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