Making sense of funeral costs

When planning a funeral, you want to give your loved one the best possible send-off. However, even a modest funeral can be a significant cost, so you probably want to look for ways you can save money without making too many compromises.

It’s therefore helpful to see how the cost of a funeral break down, so you can identify potential areas of saving. Some people find they can make many of the arrangements themselves (see DIY funerals), using professional services sparingly. Equally, you can identify the best value funeral package if you know exactly what you’re paying for.

How much does a funeral director cost?

Up to 70 per cent of the costs of a funeral are spent on the funeral director. This is because directors take care of all the arrangements for you, including everything from collecting and preparing the body to completing necessary forms and arranging the service itself. Having an experienced professional oversee all of this can be a real comfort when you’re grieving.

To give you an idea of costs, you can expect to spend between £3,000 and £4,000 on a funeral arranged through a director, depending on where you live in the country and the type of ceremony you would like.

When you choose a funeral director, it pays to shop around first. The fees can hugely vary, and it tends to be cheaper to choose a local independent firm rather than a large chain. Most funeral directors offer packages with different levels of service, so do find out what’s included in each and weigh up your options.

What is the cost of a burial or cremation?

In general, it is more expensive to have a burial rather than a cremation and they can be as much as twice the price. The average cost of a burial in the UK is £1,847, which includes the lease of the plot and digging and filling the grave, compared to £755 for a cremation. These fees (known as third party costs or disbursement fees) are often built into the cost of the funeral if you go through a director. Ensure your funeral director gives an itemised breakdown of costs so you know what is and isn’t paid for (headstones, for example, are usually extra).

If you opt for burial, the location has a huge effect on costs (high property prices in an area typically mean more expensive burial plots too). However, there are many rural burial sites now available, such as woodlands and meadows, and these can be much cheaper.

If you organise a cremation, it’s usually more cost effective to book a crematorium that’s local to the person who has passed away, to avoid paying non-resident fees.

What do coffins and memorials cost?

Coffins are usually included in the funeral director’s fee, though more lavish coffins will cost more. It is possible to save hundreds of pounds by going for a cardboard or wicker coffin, some of which are available with lavish or even humorous designs.

Headstones can be particularly expensive, reaching thousands of pounds in some cases. Again, a smaller memorial or a commemorative bench can be a cheaper option. If your loved one is cremated (or buried in woodland) then you may want to dispense with a memorial altogether. However, there is a fee of £100 to have the ashes from a cremation returned to you.

What about getting a direct cremation?

If money is extremely tight, then you can save a great deal by choosing a direct cremation, which costs around £1,000. While you won’t be able to have a ceremony beforehand or a chance to say final goodbyes, you can still hold a private ceremony to mark their passing and celebrate their life, and this can be at any time or place you wish. If you would like the ashes, you will need to ask for them beforehand.  You might also need to set aside another £500 if the body needs to be collected from home or a care residence (rather than a mortuary).

Are there any other funeral costs?

There are a number of other costs, such as paying for a celebrant to lead the service, flowers, order of service sheets, an urn (if you’re planning a cremation) and anything else that you would like to mark your loved one’s passing. There is also a fee of approximately £160 for the medical referee certificate, which is necessary for all cremations. If you are having a gathering after the ceremony, then factor in the cost of catering and venue hire too.

How can you save money on a funeral?

While some funeral costs are unavoidable, you may be able to save some money on optional arrangements such as the flowers and the gathering afterwards. For example, you could choose a simple flower arrangement or even create one yourself, ask friends and family to help provide food and hold the gathering at home.

Some people save money by choosing a council-run rather than a privately owned crematorium. Finally, a number of people choose to donate their body to science rather than be buried or cremated. This saves on the largest part of funeral costs, but this approach clearly isn’t for everybody. There are also alternative ways to celebrate a loved one's life.

The best protection against funeral costs is planning in advance. Here are some more tips on how to pay for a funeral.