Worrying about how you’ll afford to pay for a funeral while grieving the loss of a loved one can feel overwhelming, especially as average funeral costs are higher than ever before.
According to insurer SunLife’s annual Cost of Dying report, the average cost of a basic funeral in 2020 was £4,184, up 1.7% since 2019 and a massive 128% since 2004.
The cost of a funeral is often more than many people expect, with one in four people surveyed by SunLife saying that there were certain costs that surprised them when they were planning a funeral.
Here, we outline the different funeral costs you may need to consider and look at ways to keep expenses down.
Before you start planning
It’s easy to feel that the best way to honour someone who has died is by choosing the most expensive funeral option, but spending more money doesn’t always guarantee a better funeral. According to research by SunLife, 87% of funeral directors say they often see people spending more money than they have when planning a funeral, potentially leaving them struggling financially.
It’s unlikely that the loved one you’ve lost would want you to push yourself into debt when paying for the funeral, in fact, 42% of people, questioned by SunLife said that they would want their family to spend as little as possible on their funeral. It may feel taboo to talk about costs when planning the send-off of a loved one, but it’s not disrespectful to go for cheaper options or ask questions about money.
When planning a funeral it can feel like a lot of decisions need to be made quickly, but it’s okay to take your time and you do not have to do it alone. If you need help, ask your funeral director to talk you through your choices and talk to trusted family and friends to get their views and support.
If you are struggling emotionally, our article Coping with grief and loss has some suggestions of things that might help. You might also want to consider contacting Cruse Bereavement Care, a charity that supports people who are bereaved and produces useful information and advice. Find out more on their website Cruse.org.uk. If you’re not sure which steps you need to take after a loved one dies, our article What to do when someone dies might help.
The average cost of a funeral
The cost of a funeral can vary hugely depending on the options you go for, and where you are planning to hold the funeral. Although the average cost of a funeral in 2020 was £4,184, this figure changes considerably depending on where you live and whether you choose a burial (£5,033), cremation (£3,885) or direct cremation (£1,554). Direct cremation is when a cremation takes place without any service. The body will go directly to the crematorium from wherever it has been stored, and after the cremation you can request to receive the ashes. There is no service and many people choose to have a separate, non-traditional celebration of the person’s life in a place and time that suits them.
The table below shows the average costs for a simple burial and a simple cremation in different parts of the UK.
|Area||Average cost of simple burial||Average cost of simple cremation|
|East of England||£4,857.50||£3,351.00|
|North East England||£4,122.50||£3,261.00|
|North West England||£4,170.50||£3,159.50|
|South East England||£4,831.00||£3,328.50|
|South West England||£4,124.50||£3,328.00|
|Yorkshire and the Humber||£4,212.00||£3,321.00|
These costs only include the basics for a funeral, including: funeral director’s services, collection/care of the deceased, a basic coffin, one limousine, hearse, management of a simple service, cremation or burial fees, doctors fees and clergy/officiant fees.
How much does a direct cremation cost?
As there are no service or optional extras, the average cost of a direct cremation is approximately a third of the cost of a burial or cremation funeral, typically costing £1,554. A number of well-known people have chosen to have a direct cremation instead of a traditional funeral including Karl Largerfeld, David Bowie, Anita Brookner and John Lennon.
According to SunLife, 93% of funeral directors are now offering this service, so if you are interested in this, it is worth checking with funeral directors in your local area to see if they can provide it.
Breaking down the costs
There are several different charges you’ll need to cover when arranging a funeral. These include:
Funeral Director costs
Most people will plan a funeral with the help of a funeral director. A funeral director will usually be responsible fo making the following arrangements:
- organising moving, storing and dressing the body
- ordering the coffin
- Arranging a hearse and limousine
- arranging the ceremony and burial (including the burial plot) or cremation
- Organising any necessary paperwork, including medical certificates
The fees you pay to the funeral director are often the largest portion of the costs of a funeral, costing an average of £2,149 (Royal London National Funeral Cost Index Report 2020) which could be 40-55% of the total amount you spend on a basic funeral. The fee will usually be higher if you are paying for a burial, because of the cost of the burial plot.
The fee you pay the funeral director may include a number of disbursements, which are fees the funeral director collects on the behalf of third parties. These usually include things like cremation or burial fees, florists, celebrants and so on.
These costs can vary hugely depending on your choices, so it’s important to ask your funeral director if you are worried about the cost of anything. For example, there could be a difference of several hundred pounds for a burial plot in one cemetery compared to another cemetery which is much further away.
Most funeral directors will ask for a deposit upfront to cover these costs, and some funeral directors may also offer a discount for a larger sum paid upfront. The final bill will usually be sent shortly after the funeral.
Finding a funeral director
It’s important to shop around when looking at funeral directors as prices can vary considerably. A good funeral director will work with you to find options that are in your price range wherever possible.
When choosing a funeral director, check that they are a member of the National Association of Funeral Directors, the National Federation of Funeral Directors, or the Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors. These all have codes of practice they adhere to and price details for a wide range of funeral directors.
The Funeral Choice website will also help you compare the prices of local funeral directors.
You can choose to organise the funeral yourself if you feel you are able to. The Natural Death Centre has advice for people who want to do this.
In addition to the basic costs of a funeral, paid through a funeral director, there are a number of optional extras that many people choose to have at their funeral. These can quickly add up, and are often the place that many people look to cut costs.
These optional costs include:
|Memorial (including headstone)||£1,016|
|Catering at the wake||£450|
|Order of service sheets||£94|
Ways to reduce funeral costs
Keeping funeral costs to a minimum is a priority for those on lower incomes, and there are plenty of things you can do to keep costs down, whilst still giving your loved one the send off they deserve. Here are some of the options you might want to consider:
- Buy a less expensive coffin – this is the most popular way to cut funeral costs. Coffins can cost anywhere between £300 and £2,000, so choosing a less expensive option can have a big impact on your overall spend. You do not need to even have a coffin, you could opt for a shroud which can cost as little as £150.
- Spend less on flowers – the cost of flowers can quickly add up, so keep arrangements simple and consider asking friends and family to pay for or organise flower arrangements.
- Hold the wake at home – While it may take a little extra planning, you will save venue fees, and hopefully it will feel more personal. You could also consider asking friends and family to bring food and drink so you don’t have to pay for caterers.
- Choose burial plots and memorials carefully – the price difference of a plot in one cemetery versus the cost in one a mile away could vary widely, so if your loved one didn’t feel strongly about where they’d be laid to rest, it’s worth checking the costs of a number of cemeteries in your local area. While you are looking at this, it’s worth looking at the memorial you want as there will be considerably different costs for the size, shape and material you want. If you want to have the memorial maintained, there is a cost attached to this, and it will vary from cemetery to cemetery.
- Consider cremation over burial – If your loved one has not specified whether they wanted to be buried or cremated, it’s worth knowing that a cremation is generally cheaper than burial as you do not need to pay for a burial plot.
- Consider alternative burial or direct cremation – there is a growing market for alternative burials such as woodland or natural burials, which are often a cheaper alternative to a traditional burial. You can read more on these types of burials at the Natural Death Centre. There has also been a big increase in the number of people opting for a direct cremation. The average cost of a direct cremation is £1,554, which is a fraction of the price of a traditional burial or cremation.
- Think about timings – the time and day of the week will make a difference to the cost of the funeral, so consider looking at an early morning weekday to keep costs down.
- Shop around for your funeral director – the costs of each funeral director will vary so comparing the costs of a number of different funeral directors will give you the assurance that you are getting the deal that suits you.
- If you can, consider taking on some tasks yourself – A funeral director can plan the entire funeral for you, but they will have certain suppliers they use or have agreements with. You may find that choosing to take on some of these tasks yourself if you are up to it, such as arranging flowers, ordering the coffin, or arranging for friends and family to drive themselves, can help reduce costs.
How to pay for a funeral
Paying for a funeral is often expensive, unexpected and can cause big financial worries.
However, lots of people earmark money in their estate specifically to pay for funeral costs, or take out life insurance or a funeral plan to ensure these costs are covered. You can find out more about how life insurance works in our guide What are the different types of life insurance? If no such provision has been made, then it will be down to family or friends to pay for the funeral. However, it is possible to claim funeral costs back from the estate if there are sufficient funds available. Learn more about covering funeral costs in our article How to pay for a funeral.
Have you had to arrange and pay for a loved one’s funeral? Do you have any additional suggestions that might help others? You can join the conversation on the bereavement section of our Community forum or leave a comment below.