“I only have bus fare, but I want to buy a Cadillac”

bench Funeral directors daily serve families making funeral arrangements that find themselves unable to pay for a desired  funeral to honor their loved one. A fair analogy quote for this situation is “I only have bus fare, but I want to buy a Cadillac”  (this comes from my fellow funeral professional Todd Winninger).  Just yesterday I was chatting with a funeral director  about payment plans for their funeral home.  When a family does not have a pre-need trust,  but has limited life  insurance, cash or  credit card balance, my company At Need Credit offers a payment plan.

Two of the three plans require that a family make a down payment, at least half of the goods and services of the total cost.  By asking a family to meet the funeral home “halfway,” then the family is committed and the funeral home can at least recover a majority of its cost of goods.  When describing the information about how the plans work, the funeral director asked me “well, what if the family can’t come up with half of the total cost for a down payment?”

My response to the director was similar to the title of this post; “if a family cannot come up with half of the down payment for your goods and services, why are you trying to sell them a Cadillac when they only have bus fare?”  There was a silence on the other end of the phone.  I went further “what are you currently doing if a family cannot produce even half of what you are charging for goods and services?”  The standard answer was given “we reduce the casket and services” the funeral director said.  So then I went into the math mode “so lets say your least expensive service with the least expensive casket is $4995 and the family doesn’t have even $2,500…what are you reducing…are you performing a graveside service with no visitation, no embalming, and no hearse?”  Silence again…then “well no, we just try to work with the family” which in funeral director terms means that the firm takes whatever the family can pay at the time, perform basically what the family wants, and hope for the best.

Just a week ago I addressed this issue from a different perspective titled “A Real Dilemma, the Cost of Being Broke.”  The issue is not going away; I get emails, phone calls and inquiries daily from funeral homes inquiring about At Need Credit payment plans. My funeral home locations weekly face this problem. The questions I want to bring to the funeral professionals: if your family only has bus fare, why are you trying to sell them a Cadillac?  I know that there are going to be responses from some that some social or government organization will pay something…but even then, are you matching the goods and services with the amount you collect?  Meaning, if the organization pays your firm $1,000 what do you give the family in return…do you provide the absolute minimum?  I hear often, “what if the family has no money?”  I then ask. “how much is no money?”  I have personally seen a “no money family” pay $15,000 cash for a funeral.  From my own experience, I have never known a family to have absolutely $0…I am not disputing that they exist.  So another question for discussion: when a family says they have “no money,” how does your firm serve them?

Anyone with a computer, television and even those that still read newspapers (I personally dont know anyone anymore that gets the paper under 75 years old) knows that our economy is in the toilet…if not, CNN Money reports that 76% of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck to bring you up to date.  For discussion sake, please share your funeral home solutions to those that “have bus fare, but want to buy a Cadillac.”           Cheers y’all.

4 comments
  1. I found your article interesting and true except for one item; the rarity of the family who has nothing. I own a small firm in the largest and poorest county in Iowa. Pottawattamie Co. has the highest rate of poverty and not surprising, the highest number of people on the state welfare roll. Literally, these folks are born on welfare, live their entire lives on welfare and when they die…guess what-there is absolutely no assistance provided! Iowa has a county to county funeral assistance policy and because of the daunting numbers in Pottawattamie it was discontinued due to the astronomical cost. This puts the family and the funeral home in a ponderous state as these folks cannot understand that they are responsible (and they have nothing anyway) and cutting our costs isn’t feasible because we would have to do it all pro bono. We do try to make it as cost effective as possible but with increasing cash advances it is difficult to say the least. All of the firms have presented our arguments to the state and County, but to no avail; so what does one do when this is the norm and not the exception?

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  2. Jeff Harbeson said:

    Mike:

    First, thank for reading this post. I can not fathom the problem you are facing as a norm…my thoughts are that a family must at least pay for the cost of goods for your products and overheads for your services. Do you own your own crematory or do you have them performed by trade? On a cremation when we are faced with the “no money” we get our removal, cost of the cremation ($250) and alternative container in cash at a minimum. With both these scenarios, we we accept our costs as a down payment, and place the rest of the bill on the At Need Payment plan. If the families credit is terrible, and they make at least 3 of the 12 monthly payments, we end up with at least more than their minimum downpayment and up to about 82% of the total service offered…
    Let me know if you want me to provide you with more information…

    Best,

    Jeff

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  3. Very interesting discussion, and applies to more than just funerals… Up until a couple of years ago, I thought if the Dow was healthy, the economy was healthy. Not any more. The upper class is actually getting smaller and smaller. So a rich upper class does not mean that most people have enough to live as they wish… Coming up with decent services to respond to this fact is quite a challenge, but it is one we need to do…

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