THE 1984 FUNERAL BIZ PANIC


Mr. Smith, a retired elementary grade six teacher had just passed away peacefully in the comfort of his own home. Mrs. Smith, who’d lived frugally with him for over forty years, had an exact sum of money set aside for their funerals. In the early 1970’s, in a small southern town, Mrs. Smith could give her husband a modest funeral for $395.00. The price of Mr. Smith’s funeral was the price of his coffin, one made of pressed wood covered in grey felt fabric, a first price, if you will.

Mr. Jones, one of the town’s bankers, had also died. His wife wanted the best, the most expensive casket available, a satin-lined copper. The cost of his funeral and the cost of his casket was one in the same, $3,000.00. The only difference in the two funerals was the type of casket and its price. Both prices included everything else, all additional services, including the kitchen sink.

My father had no idea what it actually cost him to provide a funeral. And he wasn’t alone, most funeral directors failed to itemize the services they provided. At that time the funeral business was truly a service business. Funeral directors in our neck of the woods were primarily community do-gooders. My father used to play one-upmanship with his rival to see which of them could offer the largest number of free services! Boy oh boy, funeral directors were lousy business people. All of that changed in 1984, but my father didn’t live long enough to witness the upheaval.

The Funeral Rule was enacted in 1984 under the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. Funeral Rule ensures protection to those consumers who require adequate information concerning the goods and services they may purchase from a funeral provider. Funeral providers are obliged to comply with the Funeral Rule. They also lay down various consumer rights. Funeral Rule states that funeral industry goods and service providers must respect consumer rights.

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For the first time in their lives many funeral directors had to work out what each item on their long list of services actually cost. My father never had a list of services. He sat down with each family and discussed want they wanted and very simply provided those things.

How many undertakers took stock and embarked on the blind leading the blind journey in 1984, I can’t tell you. The list of services most funeral homes provided included embalming, a hairdresser, nights of viewings, the registry book, memorial folders, the actual service, which included costs of the preacher, musician and extra manpower for larger funerals, it goes on. What exactly did one charge for the three or four hours spent in the embalming room? How to price a large funeral differently from a small one? Who knew? Panic.

Undertakers groaned and complained about the task before them to itemize their services, until, while trudging through the dark mire, all was illuminated. They discovered that the funerals at the lowest price weren’t pulling their weight; in fact, my father never recovered his costs from all of those $395 funerals. Gosh, that was silly, agreed those who had oared the same boat of doom.

Suddenly the federal government was the best friend the funeral industry ever had. Funeral directors began charging for every service they performed, rather than just knocking up the price of a casket by a couple or three notches, as they had for most of their careers. They realized that they couldn’t do things like make a mortgage payment or plan to buy a new hearse unless they recovered their costs.


There you have it: The how, when and why the price of a funeral went up and up and up and…

9 comments:

  1. Fascinating. It makes me wonder how a consumer can sift through the various options and come up with a tasteful but practical funeral for a loved one.

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  2. Hi Susan, Yes, actually, me too. I've been amazed at some of the options I've read about, too numerous, varied and frankly, bizarre to contemplate. Thanks for your comment.

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  3. Your words about your father "providing a service" is exactly how my grandfather felt about the business. I imagine he would have been set back a bit at having to itemize the costs of a funeral today.

    I am helping my brother make arrangements and was amazed, every little detail from "pick-up to delivery" and miles driven. Wow.

    I remember as a kid getting to help out printing up those little memorial "programs". Grandpa had a little type-setter machine that was hand operated. I was fascinated by it and thrilled when I was allowed to help print.

    Odd to say, but your blog brings back so many good memories of my Gramps.

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  4. Hi Annie,

    I never thought I would hear that my blog brought good memories! (Not that I want it to conjure up bad ones!) Thank you and I'm pleased that it does. My father had an old fashioned typewriter that he'd peck on like a bird. Terrible typist! Thanks for reading.

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  5. Hi Kate,

    Tried a different browser this time and comment form seems to work out of the gate.

    It was very interesting to read about funeral costs from a funeral director's point of view. Mind boggling to think of those $395 funerals.

    Wasn't the event that caused all this the publication by an English writer of a book on the high costs of funerals? (can't remember its name) Though it sure doesn't sound as though it applied to your neck of the woods.

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  6. Thanks for a nice share you have given to us with such an large collection of information. Great work you have done by sharing them to all. simply superb. Photo Recovery

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  7. Hi SavvysavingBytes,

    The book you're thinking of is by Jessica Mitford. The American Way of Death was published in 1963 and was an "expose on abuses in the funeral industry". And you're right, it did not apply to our neck of the woods, nor to many others. Glad the comment form worked. Thanks very much!

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  8. Hello Ayesha,

    Thank you very much for stopping by and reading. I appreciate your comments.

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