The high cost of paying your last respects
Grieving family members often go with what they think their loved ones would have wanted for their funeral, regardless of the cost.
That trend hasn’t changed much during an economic recession, according to Nikki Blackburn, co-owner of Callahan-Edfast Mortuary at 2515 Patterson Road.
“Usually it’s based on family preference. We don’t find money factors in” to the decision-making process, Blackburn said.
A person’s ability to pay for those decisions has changed, though. Blackburn said she has received bankruptcy notices from families after a funeral because their financial circumstances have changed or the funeral debt was more than they thought they could handle. Some families just do what they deem best and think about the cost later.
Other families have taken the recession into account when planning a funeral. Della Matticks, co-owner of Snyder Grand Valley Memorials at 292 Canon Ave., said cremation has had more of an effect on her industry than the economy. She has noticed fewer people ordering higher priced grave markers, at least in the near-term.
“The people with money are buying what they want. But for the middle class and people that don’t have a lot of money, it has affected (which headstone they choose) somewhat,” she said. “They are either putting it off, or they are buying less expensive stones right now.”
The funeral business will never run out of clients. But prepaid funerals, cremation and going with lower-cost funeral options may change the game.
The Cost of Burial
Headstones range from $1,500 to $4,500 on average at Snyder Grand Valley Memorials, but Matticks said people can get them for as little as $500 or for $20,000 or more.
A grave marker at Memorial Gardens, 2970 North Ave., runs from $2,200 to $15,000 for some larger upright memorials, and grave sites are $1,700 to $2,500. Add a graveside service and a fee for digging and filling the grave, and a family can spend $5,000 before paying the funeral home’s bill.
At Orchard Mesa Cemetery, 263 26 1/4 Road, which is owned by the city of Grand Junction, graves cost $1,290 for adults, with $631 charged for opening and closing a grave.
Picking out a coffin, which can cost $1,000 to tens of thousands of dollars, sometimes just comes down to a simple detail, said Barb Snell, co-owner of Snell-McLean Funeral Home in Palisade and Fruita.
“People usually pick the color,” she said. “It doesn’t necessarily always constitute price.”
Burial vs. Cremation
Colorado ranks ninth among states for cremation, with 59.6 percent of people who die being cremated. Most funeral directors and cemetery personnel in Grand Junction agreed area residents are following that trend.
Families can have a viewing of a body and even rent a coffin for the occasion, before cremation, although more and more people are presenting a slide show of the deceased’s life rather than hosting a viewing of the body, Mesa Funeral Services co-owner Kevin LaQuey said.
The average cost of a traditional funeral is $7,323, according to the National Funeral Directors Association. Meanwhile, cremations start at $995 in Grand Junction, and urns can cost below $100, or ashes can be scattered.
Not everyone is interested in the process, though. The decision to bury a body or cremate it often boils down to what a family member wants, said Vicki Beltran of Orchard Mesa Cemetery.
“We had a family the other day that definitely had a need for money to pay for the funeral, but that person never wanted to be cremated, and even though the cremation costs less, they didn’t do it,” Beltran said.
People who try to save money usually are planning their own funerals, not someone else’s. Richard Lewis, manager at Martin Mortuary, 550 North Ave., said circumstances can change quickly, and a person who loses his or her job and then suddenly has to pay for a parent’s funeral can go broke quickly.
The dilemma can be avoided if the parent plans ahead for the funeral. Even if the funeral is not prepaid, planning ahead can help prevent family members from making expensive decisions while blinded by emotion. Lewis said it’s always a good idea to plan ahead, no matter how morbid the thought may seem for some.
“We plan for weddings, graduations, all these things that may or may not happen, but not everyone plans for the inevitable,” he said.
The story of John Ferrin’s father is a testament to saving money by planning ahead. Ferrin, the cemetery manager at Grand Junction Memorial Gardens, 2970 North Ave., said his father paid $450 for his and his wife’s funeral plans in 1951. When he died in 1980, the same funeral services would have cost his family more than $7,000.
Funeral costs go up 7 to 10 percent every year, Ferrin said.
Going to extremes
Some people who are down on their luck have seen the price of a grave as an opportunity. Memorial Gardens Manager John Ferrin said he’s had three people come to him in the past month, looking to sell a grave back to the cemetery that had been inherited or had been paid for by someone else, such as a parent.
“Those are the people that are desperate,” he said. “It doesn’t work that way.”
Say it with flowers
In some ways, a poor economy may lead people to spend more on funerals. Sandi Reynolds of Country Elegance Florist, 2486 Patterson Road, No. 12, said she hasn’t seen anyone shop by price for a funeral at the flower shop, whether they’re arranging the funeral or sending flowers to the funeral site.
“I would say people are sending more flowers,” she said. “They’re thinking of their friends and families more.”