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Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
Urns are displayed on a wall outside the crematorium at Larkin Mortuary. Urns are a less-expensive alternative to burial.

Frugality is finding its way to the funeral home.

Some mortuaries from Ogden to St. George say the economic downturn is leading families to shop around, buy less-expensive caskets and even bring their own Costco flowers rather than buying a funeral home spray of blooms.

A few companies say cremation is also becoming more popular, because it is a less-expensive alternative to burial.

"The economy doesn't affect the death rate, but what it does affect is how people decide to do funerals," said Brint Peel, owner of Peel Funeral Home in Magna.

"They choose to keep costs down, maybe choose to do cremation instead of earth burial," he said. "That's what we've seen in past recessions, and maybe we're seeing a little bit of that now."

Funeral directors in some cities nationwide are reporting a spike in cremations, which might cost around $1,000 to $1,600, versus $6,500 to $9,000 for a traditional funeral service and burial, according to numbers provided by two Utah funeral directors. Some New York funeral directors have noted a 30 percent jump in cremations, and suburban Chicago funeral homes have seen a rise, too, according to newspaper reports.

Cremations have become more common each year since the 1980s, according to the Cremation Association of North America. Nationally, 32 percent of deaths resulted in cremation in 2005, up from 27 percent in 2001. In Utah, 22 percent of deaths resulted in cremation, up from 17 percent in 2001.

So cremation was already becoming more popular, before the economic downturn.

"I really believe those who want cremation have always wanted cremation. They haven't changed because their economic situation has changed," said Kurt Soffe of Jenkins-Soffe Funeral Homes, which are located in Murray and South Jordan.

McDougal Funeral Home in Taylorsville has seen no change in cremations or other selections.

But Spencer Larkin is seeing more cremations at his mortuary in downtown Salt Lake. "I think the economic downturn is a big factor."

Some families who opt for cremation still have a funeral service, several directors said. Many people rent a casket — the interior and linens are fresh for each use — in order to save a couple thousand dollars on a cemetery plot and in-ground vault, while still allowing families a tribute and chance to have closure.

Some people who opt for traditional burials select more moderate caskets or vaults in economic tough times, said Shaun Myers, owner and funeral director at Myers Mortuary in Ogden and an executive board member for the National Funeral Directors Association.

Some families are opting for less expensive flowers — carnations instead of roses — or going with one spray instead of three, said Todd Bonzo, general manager and partner of Metcalf Mortuary in St. George.

Some people also are doing things themselves — occasionally, transporting their deceased loved ones from St. George to Salt Lake City, for example. That would save $2 a mile, or $600 for the St. George to Salt Lake trek, Bonzo said.

Myers is seeing people call and compare prices from funeral home to funeral home.

People more often are pre-planning their own funerals, and paying the expenses in installments, several directors said. That takes care of any questions when a person dies, plus locks in the price.

But other factors besides the economy have contributed to the trend of people doing their own planning, Soffe said. It has less to do with cash flow, and more to do with HBO — mainly, the series "Six Feet Under."

"I love what (the show) did for my profession," Soffe said. "It gave people now a license, gave them the confidence...(to) call and carry on a conversation with me and ask me questions."


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