MANILA, Philippines – While most people would rather not think about death, this reality bites: the costs are rising.
Knowing the way around the morbid options can help cushion financial blows in the future and cut unnecessary costs.
While competition is rising among more entrepreneurs entering a “dying” industry, inflation or the annual price increases of basic and allied products and services is practically assured.
Casket choices, knowing alternative options, staying assertive can come in handy.
Competition and caskets
In the Philippines, the estimated cost for a middle-class burial can set one back between P50,000 and P100,000, depending on the casket of choice, funeral and wake services, chapel size, and length of time of the wake. Trimmings add costs too.
Several factors outside the control of service providers have hiked casket prices. These factors include the rise in prices of casket raw materials, like bronze and wood, as well as import taxes and fuel.
However, with the entry of new players and the network expansion of existing funeral parlors, competition have kept price increases to a minimum.
Prices of funeral and wake services have risen by around 10%, according to Rafael S. Jose, president of Arlington Memorial Chapels & Cremator.
Industry players said that over the years, more and more people are preferring to be cremated. Until recently, the church prohibited cremation. But since the rules have been relaxed, funeral parlors are reporting a surge in cremation requests.
The cost to cremate someone is about one-third that of a traditional funeral.
According to Jose, cremation requests have jumped 5-fold between 2009 and 2012.
“This is mostly due to space, cost and demographics. With more people living abroad, cremating someone makes it easier to transport them back home,” said Jose.
The cost-conscious are increasingly using their bargaining skills to lower the package prices. According to June Mercado, assistant manager at Prudential Funeral Parlors, their prices are open to negotiation.
“When we talk to the family, we usually have a sense of the family’s ability to afford the package. [We can] adjust our prices,” he said.
“We used to offer promissory notes, but stopped that since it was hard to get the money back afterwards. [We] lost a lot of money,” he added. Roberto P. Bonoan, director of memorial services at Loyola Memorial Chapels and Crematorium, said he gets calls from customers who have shopped around and use the prices of other funeral parlors as a bargaining chip.
“People sometimes compare prices. They will check different memorial chapels and try and play the prices against each other,” he said.
Many people also rent caskets. Loyola offers a cremation package of P85,000 which allows people to rent a casket for 3 to 4 days, after which the body is cremated.
The lining is then changed and rented out again or sold. “It’s very popular. Sometimes people want viewing, then cremation. They don’t want anything to do with the casket,” said Bonoan.
“After a certain time, [we] sell the caskets,” he added. Another way people cut costs is by shortening the time of the wake and the time the chapel is rented out. Wakes are traditionally held for 3 to 7 days, 24 hours.
Jose suggested closing the chapel during the night when less visitors are expected. This saves the cost of renting out the church, but also allows family members to get some rest.
Some families also hold wakes and visitations in their own homes.
If the departed is a senior citizen, relatives can also avail of the Expanded Senior Citizens Service, which provides for a 20% discount on funeral packages.
Following the eco-conscious trend in Europe, a number of green alternatives has also been popping up in the industry.
Suroni Philippines Inc offers environmentally friendly and locally-sourced coffins made out of abaca, water hyacinth, and other indigenous materials. These types of caskets work best for those looking to be cremated since they burn easier than wood, according to Jose.
GKonomics, Gawad Kalinga’s social enterprise development partner, has also been training different communities to make caskets out of recycled paper.
This project offers a livelihood alternative for poorer communities in areas such as Smokey Mountain and Barangay Molino in Bacoor town in Cavite and a cheaper alternative for those who can’t afford the prices of wooden caskets.
“We thought it would be a good way to enable livelihood for families. Many families here are living through scavenging. When the community doesn’t have any means of living, it leads to illegal activity. The people who work on the caskets are out-of-school youth and not employed,” said Manuel Marquez Noynoy, project director at GK, Smokey Mountain.
The caskets are made of woven newspaper and recycled plywood, which is used for the frame. So far, the initiatives at Smokey Mountain are receiving donations from a nearby school. About 10 kilos of paper are needed to make a casket, and recycled paper costs P10 a kilo.
“There are 2,000 families living in Smokey Mountain and the death rate is high…I want to target this market and let them know that these caskets are very cheap and affordable. People are very open-minded because of the cost of coffins in the Philippines now is very expensive,” said Noynoy. – Rappler.com
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