People like to say that a funeral home is one of the few recession-proof businesses.
"People are definitely being more economical and cutting down," says Tacker, the owner and funeral director of Bartlett Funeral Home and owner of Al Tacker's Casket Store and Cremation Services, both in Memphis, Tenn.
What are consumers cutting back on? You name it, says Tacker.
New, too, is the number of people who call around and comparison-shop among funeral homes, Tacker says. "They have always said that people won't price-shop for funerals. Well, people are starting to price-shop."
Clients are "easily" spending 15% less than in the past, he says.
Rituals, costs are changingIt's not just a Memphis thing.
"What funeral directors are seeing is that as the economy gets tight, people are cutting back on some of the choices that they might make -- and that could include anything from less limousines and less flowers, to less-expensive services," says David Walkinshaw, a former funeral director who is a spokesman for the Massachusetts Funeral Directors Association. In more than a few areas, sales have slowed for cemetery plots and headstones, and people are downsizing there, too.
In an informal Web survey last year, the National Funeral Directors Association found that 80% of funeral directors who responded said that more clients were choosing less-expensive caskets. And nearly 74% said families were choosing reduced services.
All this is rattling the funeral industry, because it comes at a time when larger shifts are already shaking its foundations.
The traditional funeral is dying, or at least it's pretty sick. Increasingly on the outs, say surveys and trend watchers, are fancy caskets, somber church services and sober graveside ceremonies. "In" are cremation, parties at a beloved bar, yacht club or VFW hall, and lively memorials that include things such as video tributes.
In short, you may not recognize the next funeral you attend.
Not your father's funeral anymoreDying isn't cheap: The average funeral today costs about $7,600, says Darryl Roberts, a funeral and cemetery consultant in Scottsdale, Ariz., and the author of "Profits of Death." That's just on the funeral side, says Roberts. Add in a cemetery plot, a vault plus opening and closing fees for the vault, and it can easily run $10,000 or $12,000, Roberts says.
Now, however, a backlash of sorts has begun, largely pushed by baby boomers. "The trends are away from formalities and ceremonies, and toward a social acknowledgement of the life lived," says Ron Hast, the publisher of Mortuary Management and Funeral Monitor magazines.
Hand in hand with those trends is an interest in simplicity, Hast says, an interest that's gained steam with the recession, as people finally seem to be paying attention to how much it costs to honor the dead.
One example is cremation. It's now how 37% of all bodies in the U.S. are disposed of, says John Ross, the executive director of the Cremation Association of North America, or CANA, up from less than 20% in 1995.
"Cremation has shown steady growth, particularly over the past 10 years," Ross says. And funeral directors say more are considering it who might not have in the past, even those who would've eschewed it in the past for religious or cultural reasons. People like the simplicity of it, says Ross.
But they also like the cost savings: A CANA survey showed that the median price nationwide for a basic cremation, with a simple memorial service and a basic urn, is $1,650. "Cremation is typically way less money," Hast says.
People are finding that their new preferences are sometimes saving money in other ways, too. For instance, lots of families are now finding that it's more meaningful to have a memorial or celebration for the deceased at the person's favorite park, watering hole or even golf club. Many times that get-together isn't just more uplifting -- it's cheaper than having two days of wakes and memorials at a funeral home.