I’m looking for a few good men and women who are interested in shopping for their own funeral (or just for some research). It would involve visiting three or more funeral homes to find out what the difference in costs may be.

I’ve been wanting to do some comparison shopping for you for a few years, but after hosting some “Death Cafés” recently and getting some feedback from participants, I may be able to entice some of you to do it and share your results with the rest of us.

At a recent Death Café, one of the participants shared how he did shop for his mother’s funeral months before she died (she was in a personal care home). He went to three funeral homes, asking for the exact same services and the prices ranged from $6,000 to over $10,000. He was happy he had done some preplanning and shopped around.

Twice in the past few months clients of mine have shared their experience when they looked after a funeral for a family member who died unexpectedly. In both of these situations, the cost of the cremation and “simple” service was more than $10,000. The cost was way more than the individual expected to pay for what they thought should have been a simple cremation and small “celebration of life”. When I reviewed the funeral service invoice with them, they were unaware of the services that they could have said “no” to (viewing casket, cremation casket, and embalming, for example).

If you have read my articles for the past several years (I’ve been writing in the Dawson Trail Dispatch since 1998), you may recall my own experience with differences in prices at funeral homes.

In 2014, both my mother and father died (living a good life into their 90s). When my mother died in hospital somewhat unexpectedly, I (the executor) contacted the preferred funeral home (known to my family) and arranged for the cremation, memorial cards, and guest book. I was surprised to find out the cost was about $2,700. I thought this was a bit high, but I continued with the arrangements.

What were my options? Say no thank you and arrange to have my mother’s body transferred to another funeral home? I felt it was kind of too late to do some shopping and compare prices! A few months later when my father was dying in a personal care home, I did call ahead to another funeral home to find out the cost of a basic cremation. When my father died, I called that funeral home to make the arrangements. For the exact same service as my mother (cremation, memorial cards, guest book), the cost was only $1,400. A difference of $1,300 for the exact same service! This was my wake-up call that funeral homes are not really competitive.

In order for true competition to exist, the consumer must be able to make informed decisions and compare the exact same service. But no one does any shopping when the time comes they need the services of a funeral home. When the funeral home shows you (or your surviving family member) the total cost of the service, you do not know if this is a fair price or not. You have nothing to compare it to.

Unlike when you purchase other products and services (like vehicles, furniture or income tax service), you don’t have time to “shop around” when you need to plan a funeral today. And it is during a very emotional time for the surviving family.

Why don’t we shop around? It may seem morbid to shop around for a service for someone that has recently died. And the hospital or personal care home need to know fairly quickly which funeral home they should call to pick up the body of your loved one. Often you need to give them an answer within hours.

I encourage you to be proactive and do some shopping ahead of time.

If you are interested, give my office a call. I’ll meet with you and give you some funeral planning information and you can decide what kind of funeral you want to plan for. You can go to three or more funeral homes to find out what the costs may be. If you ask for the exact same service from three different funeral home, you can do some real comparison shopping in an unemotional state.

Once we get a few examples, we can share the information with all the readers and hopefully encourage everyone to pre-plan your own funeral (or for a loved one that is unable to do it themselves) and know how much it will cost.

If there is no time to preplan and you need to make some funeral decisions immediately here are a few tips: First, bring someone who is not as emotionally invested in the death as you are. They will be able to stop you and say “wait a minute let’s think about this” and ask the funeral director “is that necessary?” (such as purchasing their urn, need for embalming, need for a viewing casket). Caskets, Urns, stationery and flowers can be purchased from other retailers at substantially less cost. But only if you know that.

Embalming is a choice: it’s an invasive procedure designed to temporarily preserve a body; funeral homes need your permission before carrying it out and adding it to your bill. Ask why it is necessary. You may be able to have the body refrigerated instead of (costly) embalmed.

With my parents, because we had preplanned, I needed the funeral home only to look after the cremation; I looked after the memorial service or celebration of life myself (at the Scandinavian Cultural Centre with real Danish food and beer and wine! Just as my parents wanted.) If you would like to participate in shopping some funeral homes, give me a call or send an email.

And we will have more Death Cafés in the next few months. One of our participants said “everyone should attend a Death Café; so many questions I didn’t know I had; so much good information in a comfortable environment.” If you would like to be on our contact list, let us know. Anni Markmann is a personal income tax professional, a Certified Professional Consultant on Aging, and a Certified Financial Planner; living, working, and volunteering in our community. Contact us at 204.422.6631 or 36 Dawson Road in Ste Anne (near Co-op) or Info@SteAnneTaxService.ca