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More Families Look For Cost Savings In Funerals

TARRYTOWN, N.Y. -- Westchester funeral homes are seeing several changing trends within their business, and the Tarrytowns area is no exception.

According to Terri Flynn, executive director of the Westchester County Funeral Homes Association, wake times have shrunk and more families are choosing direct cremation.

Nancy Coffey says they’re seeing the same thing at Coffey Funeral Home in Tarrytown.

“Just a rise in cremation—that’s probably the biggest change” the funeral home has seen, she said. But they also see shorter wakes and less traditional funerals. Families are changing up services to be more adaptive to what their loved one wanted or what’s right for them.

Many of these decisions can be traced to families wanting to save money. Coffey noted that most cemeteries in Westchester County charge $1,000 or more just to dig a grave. Sleepy Hollow Cemetery charges $1,600 to $1,700.

If you don’t already have a cemetery plot, Coffey said that adds a couple of thousand dollars.

“You’re talking $5, 6, 7 thousand before you even go into a funeral home,” she said. “Add up all of those costs, and people are thinking differently today than they used to.”

Another growing trend is “green” burials, according to Coffey. That means no caskets, no embalming, no headstones and no footstones. GPS coordinates are given out to help families locate graves.

However, many companies are coming out with green chemicals as well. Eco-friendly shrouds have also been developed, since bodies have to be buried in something, Coffey said. If families do want a casket, it’s “the old traditional pine box.”

“It’s going back to square one,” she said.

Coffey said their funeral home has not yet had a green burial, although they have had inquiries and the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery has a section devoted to green burials.

Funeral homes may experience an increase in the amount of "death calls" that they receive due to the baby boomer generation, especially in the three-year period between 2013 and 2015, said Terri Flynn, executive director of the Westchester County Funeral Homes Association.

While the county's funeral homes vary in size and traffic, with smaller homes averaging between five to ten funerals each month and larger homes pulling in close to 30, Flynn does not expect problems when baby boomers pass on.

According to Flynn, the increase in deaths due to baby boomers will not result in new funeral homes opening throughout the county.

"It's quite an expense to open one," she said. "And it's difficult to build a client base as families tend to deal with those that they have dealt with in the past, are affiliated to their church or synagogue, or that is local to their neighborhood."

While some funeral homes are integrating social media into their practice, naysayers allege that it comes with drawbacks. Homes are often run by older owners who are not tech-savvy or fear bad brand management and do not have the personal time to devote to its upkeep.

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