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How to cut the costs of a funeral

Last updated 31st May 2019

Tips to trim the final bill

Everyone wants to do right by the loved one they’ve lost, but with the average cost of a funeral in the UK now at £4,271*, finding the money to cover the funeral costs can be tough.

Unless you’re prepared and have provisions in place, it can be quite a financial strain to those who are left to pay the bill.

Sometimes having to organise a funeral can come out of nowhere, and it can be really difficult to know where to begin.

Having a conversation with your loved ones about what you want is the best place to start. This way you can start planning and looking at ways to cover the funeral costs.

And, when the time comes, it will relieve some of the pressure during this distressing time.

a couple working out their finances

Unfortunately, we can’t always be prepared. So in the event that you are planning a loved one’s funeral, here are some steps you can take to help with funeral costs and, hopefully, reduce the final bill.

Make use of all available help with funeral costs

When arranging someone’s funeral, it’s possible to recover the costs from their estate as long as there’s enough money available for this purpose.

Secured debts against the estate such as a mortgage do take priority, but the good news is that funeral costs are usually paid after this.

It’s worth finding out early on how much money is available in the estate, as this may well decide the level of funeral arrangements you make.

If you’re on a low income and are responsible for arranging a loved one’s funeral but need a little bit of help with the funeral costs, you may qualify for a funeral grant from the Government Social Fund called a Funeral Payment.

However, how much you get and how much has to be repaid will be determined by your individual circumstances and how much money is available from the estate.

Cut the funeral director’s bill

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to use a funeral director and could organise a DIY funeral with the help of family and friends, although it would be no mean feat to do so.

A happy medium could be to use a funeral director for the more specialist requirements, like storing and preparing the body, and then you could take care of the service yourself.

Of course, it’s probably easiest to use a funeral director for almost everything, but there are still a number of ways to help with funeral costs and trim the final bill.

Type of funeral

We know from our Cost of Dying report that funeral costs are on the rise, but there are different options you could look at that might help keep costs down.

A basic burial, for example, costs £4,798 on average in 2018 while a basic cremation costs £3,744 on average. Opting for the basic cremation could save up to £1,054.

Basic funeral fees include the funeral director, the burial or cremation itself which includes a service in a church or cemetery chapel, but excludes professional services, the doctor’s fees and the fees for the clergy or officiate.

Becoming more and more popular, and cheaper still, is a direct cremation. In 2018 the average cost of a direct cremation was £1,712.

This is a cremation at its simplest with no funeral service. The body of the deceased is taken to the crematorium and cremated when suitable for them.

There’s no ceremony or service, the ashes are simply returned to the loved ones for them to do with as they please.

You might worry that this sort of informal, unscheduled send-off isn’t as respectful as a traditional funeral, however, it’s becoming more and more popular, and it leaves more time and money to be spent on an alternative farewell ceremony.

Timing of the funeral

If opting for a cremation, the timing of the funeral can play a part on funeral costs; holding the service earlier or later in the day can affect the price.

an alarm clock and piles of coins on a table

Coffin

Coffins really range in price and while you may want to give your loved one the grandest send-off possible, it’s likely that the coffin won’t be highest on their list of send-off wishes.

Keeping the coffin simple will help to keep costs down and allow for the money to be spent on other things.

Embalming

Embalming is the process used to slow down the decay of the body.

If the funeral is planned to be conducted very soon after death, and the funeral director has adequate refrigerator facilities, embalming may not be necessary.

It may be difficult to think about but skipping this step could help keep costs down, especially if you are not planning to have an open coffin.

Transport

While a hearse and limos are very traditional, they aren’t both necessary.

You could use your own transport for a short distance or ask friends and family to assist.

Alternatively, you could always organise a procession on foot if the distance isn’t too far.

funeral car with flags on each side

Orders of service

You don’t have to spend loads on creating an order of service. Ask friends or family to design something that can be printed at home.

There are plenty of tools on the internet with templates for you to personalise – and even add photos of your loved ones.

This can allow you to create a more personal, heartfelt order of service at a fraction of the cost.

Flowers

A professional florist can end up costing a lot of money and while the flowers might be beautiful, supplying your own from the garden, or local woodland can be a simple but personal solution.

mourners carrying roses

Wake

Another way to help cut down on funeral costs is looking at alternative arrangements for the memorial service after the funeral.

There’s no one right way to hold a memorial service or wake, it can be completely down to the deceased’s set-out wishes or those organising the funeral.

Some people choose not to have one at all. It’s important to do what feels right to you and what works with your finances.

Sometimes hiring an expensive venue can be an unnecessary strain – and not what your loved one might have wanted.

You could choose instead to invite people to your home. This can feel very personal and more relaxed.

And, many people will be more than happy to help with providing food and drink, which will reduce costs and make the event more intimate.

If you want to hold it away from your home, you could ask the local pub, village hall or community centre.

Sometimes these types of venues work out much cheaper, and, if you’re a local, they might even offer you a discount.

Pallbearers

Pallbearers are often included in a package from the funeral director, but you could ask friends and family to carry the coffin, which will not only keep the costs down, but will also make the funeral more personal.

Music

You can use your own choice of pre-recorded music rather than live music to help keep costs down.

See our list of the best funeral songs to go out to for some inspiration.

Remember to spend the money where it matters most

If you know what someone wanted for their funeral, focus spending on their choices rather than on things that meant little to them.

This is why it’s so helpful to talk about our funeral wishes and document our funeral plans when we’re alive and well.

If you don’t know exactly what someone wanted, spend on elements that will reflect what they valued or enjoyed and cut the funeral costs elsewhere.

For example, if the person loved singing, you could go to town on a choir but opt for a simple coffin.

If they wouldn’t care about flowers or a fancy coffin, use the money towards other things that might matter more to them, like a wake after the funeral.

Plan ahead

Making advance plans for your own funeral is one of the best ways to help with funeral costs and make sure you get the send-off you want.

With a funeral plan, there are many decisions you can make now to reduce the bill for your funeral and help those closest to you both financially and emotionally when the time comes.

If you're thinking about planning your funeral, why not try our My Perfect Send-Off tool. It’s a free and simple way to plan your funeral and share your wishes with loved ones.

*Source: SunLife Cost of Dying Report 2018

Here's the information that you need to know about who we are and the other companies that we work with in order to provide our products and services.

Who are SunLife?

Phoenix Life Limited trades as SunLife and is the provider of the Guaranteed Over 50 Plan, SunLife Insurance and the life insurance policy payment option for Funeral Plans. Phoenix Life Limited’s registered office is at 1 Wythall Green Way, Wythall, Birmingham, B47 6WG (registered in England, no. 1016269). 

SunLife Limited distributes financial products and services and is a company limited by shares, registered office: 1 Wythall Green Way, Wythall, Birmingham, B47 6WG (registered in England, no. 05460862). SunLife Limited is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and is entered on the Financial Services Register (registration no. 769427).

You can contact us by post at SunLife, PO Box 1395, Peterborough, PE2 2TR or by phone on 0800 008 6060.

If you choose to add Funeral Benefit Option to your Guaranteed Over 50 Plan, Dignity Funerals Ltd arranges and provides the funeral services, registered office: 4 King Edwards Court, Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands, B73 6AP (registered in England and Wales, No. 00041598). Dignity Funerals Ltd is a member of the National Association of Funeral Directors.

Who provides the Funeral Plans?

Dignity Funerals Ltd arranges and provides the funeral services, registered office: 4 King Edwards Court, Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands, B73 6AP (registered in England and Wales, No. 00041598). Dignity Funerals is not authorised or regulated for this activity by either the Financial Conduct Authority or the Prudential Regulation Authority. Dignity Funerals Ltd is a member of the National Association of Funeral Directors.

The life insurance policy that pays for your funeral will be provided by Phoenix Life Limited, trading as SunLife.

Who provides My Smarter (ISA)?

My Smarter (ISA) is provided by Scottish Friendly Asset Managers Limited. Authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Details can be found on the Financial Services register, registration No. 188832. Member of The Investment Association. Registered Office: Scottish Friendly House, 16 Blythswood Square, Glasgow G2 4HJ.

Who provides the Will writing services?

Hugh James is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA Number:303202).

The information contained on this website is based on Hugh James' understanding of the law of intestacy in England and Wales only as at April 2014. The law in Scotland and Northern Ireland is significantly different. This is for information purposes and is not intended to be legal advice.

Who provides SunLife Pet Insurance

SunLife Pet Insurance is arranged and administered by BDML Connect Limited. BDML Connect Limited is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (No. 309140). Registered in England and Wales Number 02785540. Registered Office: 45 Westerham Road, Bessels Green, Sevenoaks, Kent, TN13 2QB.

Who provides SunLife Home Insurance

SunLife Home Insurance is arranged and administered by BISL Limited and underwritten by a panel of insurers. BISL Limited are an intermediary authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Registered in England no. 03231094. Registered office Pegasus House, Bakewell Road, Orton Southgate, Peterborough PE2 6YS.

Who provides SunLife Car Insurance

SunLife Car Insurance is arranged and administered by BISL Limited and underwritten by a panel of insurers. BISL Limited are an intermediary authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Registered in England no. 03231094. Registered office Pegasus House, Bakewell Road, Orton Southgate, Peterborough PE2 6YS.