You’ve probably memorized the statistics. Inflation recently reached the highest level our nation has seen in more than 40 years. And while it doesn’t affect everyone equally, everyone has been affected in one way or another, including funeral homes and families.
This is why we’ve been in conversation with funeral homes, field managers, and advance funeral planners across the country. By drawing on their vast experience and insight, and paired with data we’ve gathered from prearranging hundreds of thousands of families, we want to share the most effective strategies funeral homes are using to navigate this environment.
Over the next three months, Precoa will examine inflation’s effects on preneed using three lenses: consumers, advance funeral planners, and funeral homes. The intent is to offer a detailed and comprehensive view of the issue, and we begin by focusing on the most important stakeholder in our profession: the families we serve every day.
From groceries to gasoline to something as essential as shelter, consumers are experiencing inflation at levels not seen for two generations. Even breakfast has felt the effects, with eggs up 47% over a year ago, according to Bloomberg.1
This is leading to noticeable changes in behavior. Consumers who feel like their money isn’t going as far as it used to are starting to limit purchases to only what’s needed, and they’re having to make difficult choices at the cash register. People are switching to cheaper alternatives, making fewer impulse buys, and feeling generally uncertain about the future.
Though this has understandably raised concerns around the globe, most economists agree that it is not likely to last long term. As of this writing, gas prices have dropped significantly since reaching what the American Automobile Association reported as an all-time average high of $5.01 per gallon in June.2
But, as they say, it’s complicated. Many experts are hopeful that inflation will soon be on the decline, and the most recent Consumer Price Index data suggests the same. Still, many of the experts in a recent National Association for Business Economics survey believe inflation may prove stickier, lasting well into 2023.3
In tough economic times, families who primarily see preplanning in terms of cost will be more likely to cancel a preneed contract if they’re feeling a financial pinch in other areas. But if it’s an emotional decision connected to shielding their loved ones, prefunding feels less like a discretionary purchase and more like an essential one.
With the costs of goods and services ever-present in the mind of today’s consumers, big ticket items and discretionary purchases are increasingly being put off. People are shopping the sales and cutting costs, and for funeral service this translates to more families opting for the least expensive options, like direct disposition.
Yet we’ve seen this before. During the Great Recession in the late 2000s, some of our funeral home partners similarly saw a spike in direct disposition and lower cost funerals.
It was part of a broader trend toward direct disposition that has been on the rise for years. In 2009, CANA reported that the overall cremation rate was 38.3%. By 2021, it was 57.5%,4 and NFDA expects that to rise to 80% by 2030.5 Any recent upticks resulting from inflation only highlight a bigger challenge — that a growing demographic is choosing direct disposition.
But preneed is an opportunity for funeral homes to completely shift the consumer perspective.
Prearranging families is the most effective way to build the value of funeral service at your funeral home. A remarkable prearrangement experience helps them understand that a funeral is really for the living and that ceremony, ritual, and gathering are essential to the processes of grieving and healing.
In that sense, cost savings is not the primary motivation, nor the primary benefit of a prearranged funeral. The real value is in relieving an emotional burden for your loved ones.
This is not to say that cost is not a factor. Talking about money after a loss is an uncomfortable topic for families, so it’s an added relief to prefund a funeral and have all or most of the expenses covered at the time of need. As one of our field managers recently said, “What better gift to provide than not having uncomfortable conversations during an already difficult time?”
We’ve had the great privilege to work side-by-side with leading funeral homes across the country. What we’ve seen is that each firm has a blend of business strategies based on their unique needs.
And the decision to offer pricing guarantees is one of these.
Once again, most consumers are not primarily interested in prearranging a funeral for financial reasons. It’s an added benefit, sure. So some funeral homes find that by offering price guarantees, they can alleviate consumer concerns about rising costs.
Other funeral homes offer price guarantees only for certain items, or they offer guarantees for a fee, which allows customers to choose to protect against possible rising costs. And then there are some funeral homes that offer no guaranteed pricing at all.
We understand there are varying opinions on how to approach and manage guarantees as a value proposition, including during a period of high inflation. As a business owner, executing any business strategy holds some risk, and it’s ultimately up to you to define what level of risk is acceptable. We plan to address this in greater detail in the third installment of our series of columns on inflation.
The bottom line is that no matter what strategy you choose for your funeral home, a prepaid funeral benefits families. Putting a plan in place and paying ahead provides peace of mind. There is also a level of commitment connected with prepaying that increases the likelihood the family will use your funeral home when they need you.
Rising inflation is understandably guiding consumer behavior, but that has not impacted the number of families that are interested in prearranging their funerals. The motivators of prearranging and prefunding are the same, regardless of inflation. Thankfully, there are strategies funeral homes can use to provide a remarkable prearrangement experience while also alleviating financial concerns.
And just as an inflationary economy affects every consumer uniquely, it affects every funeral home uniquely too. As part of our research into this issue, we’ve been talking to firms across the country about their experiences and strategies, which we’ll be covering in Parts 2 and 3 of our series.
Our next installments will dive even deeper into precisely what you can do to manage costs while changing how families experience loss through a prearranged funeral.
Tyler Anderson is vice president of business development at Precoa. Through his leadership and extensive experience in the funeral profession, his team helps funeral homes see how they can expand market share and grow through preneed.
Jim Schaffer is vice president of product development at Precoa. With his in-depth knowledge of data analytics paired with his expertise in preneed insurance products, he leads the company’s efforts to develop innovative preneed products for funeral homes and families.