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February 9th, 2009
Freethought San Marcos: In these economically tough times, a bit of relief

Freethought San Marcos: A column
by LAMAR HANKINS

This is not information most people get excited about.

After all, no one likes to contemplate using the services of a funeral home. That’s one reason the funeral business is called the “dismal trade” by some. But in December, two long-time funeral directors at Pennington Funeral Home left to form a new funeral service for San Marcos families -– Goodnight & Snell Funeral Directors. The principals, John Goodnight and Jonathan Snell, are offering a full range of lower-cost funeral services to families in the San Marcos area from their location at 101-B Centerpoint Road, just west of the outlet malls, near Hunter Road, in the Centerpoint Business Park.

The new funeral service is next to an allergy clinic, adjacent to two churches (one of which is available for use for large funerals or memorial services), and near a construction company office. Goodnight & Snell’s prices are moderate, the lowest offered in San Marcos, based on the most recent funeral price survey done each year by the Austin Memorial Burial & Information Society, AMBIS.

To fairly compare funeral homes, AMBIS prices a hypothetical full-service funeral, which it defines in its survey. The hypothetical funeral includes 14 goods and services. In this year’s survey, the hypothetical funeral, including a 20 ga. steel casket, cost $4505 at Goodnight & Snell; $5725 at Thomason; $6160 at Los Angeles; and $6314 at Pennington. Cemetery costs, which can be as much as $3000 or more, must be added to the quoted funeral costs to find the full cost for a complete funeral with burial.

At $995, Goodnight & Snell also offer the lowest-cost non-declinable fee (NDF), the fee charged for the basic services of funeral staff and overhead. Los Angeles’s NDF is $1695; Thomason’s is $2150; Pennington’s is $2385. This fee is added to the cost of whatever goods and services are purchased.

Once again, Pennington Funeral Home has won my unofficial annual contest for highest-priced direct cremation in Hays, Travis, Williamson, Bastrop, and Caldwell counties. This year, Pennington’s charge for the most expensive direct cremation in five counties is $3,020. The lowest price in San Marcos for direct cremation is offered by Goodnight & Snell – $1345. Los Angeles charges $1870 and Thomason charges $2950 for direct cremation.

As cremation grew in popularity over the last 20 years, funeral homes struggled with how to make more money from the relatively low-cost funeral option. In the 1980s, it was not uncommon to see cremation described on the price lists of funeral homes as “direct disposal service.” The industry disliked cremations because they couldn’t make enough money from them to pay for their high-cost business models. For years, they relied on disparagement of cremations to keep interest in them low, and argued that not displaying the body at a funeral did grievous psychological harm to mourners, making it difficult for them to manage their grief effectively.

During this same period, many funeral homes began offering grief counseling services. The industry enlisted the aid of such groups as the Association for Death Education and Counseling to strengthen their arguments. Grief counseling offered a new source of income for some funeral homes, as well as a way to network in the community.

Now, many funeral homes charge so much for direct cremation that they make enough profit to willingly provide the service to families. In addition, they promote viewing of the body and a funeral with the body present, followed by the cremation, turning cremation into a much more expensive option than it needs to be. Many families opt for direct cremation and conduct their own memorial service at a church or civic center, without the need to purchase additional services from the funeral home. It is possible to find direct cremation at no more than $775 in the Austin area, as shown in the AMBIS survey, which can be viewed at the AMBIS website at http://fcaambis.org/. Click on “Forms & Brochures” tab at the top of the page and then click on the link – “Funeral Home Price Surveys” to find the two-page 2009 survey.

One other benchmark service option offered by all funeral homes is “Immediate Burial,” burial in a minimum casket without any additional funeral-home services. Immediate Burial is available at Goodnight & Snell for $1790; at Los Angeles for $2490; at Thomason for $3245; and at Pennington for $3875.

Goodnight & Snell offer other unusual options and approaches to funeral service. They discourage embalming when it is not needed, whereas the industry standard is to promote embalming in nearly every case. They offer a range of cremation caskets that can also be used for “green” or natural burial, an approach which eschews ecologically harmful processes. All materials used are biodegradable and the body returns to the earth as quickly as natural decomposition permits. Many people who favor green or natural burial also are interested in doing as much of the burial preparation as possible. The lower NDF makes Goodnight & Snell a good funeral service to work with in planning and carrying out family-led funerals, if some help is wanted from a funeral director.

Whether your family wants more typical funeral services, direct cremation, immediate burial, natural or green burial, or a family-directed service, Goodnight & Snell offers a business that can respond to the family’s wishes at a lower cost than any of the other three funeral homes in San Marcos. Before commiting to any funeral home, check out the prices and services offered at two or three funeral establishments. One thing is clear from the new AMBIS survey, however. The lowest prices you will find in San Marcos for all funeral services are at Goodnight & Snell Funeral Directors.

© Freethought San Marcos, Lamar W. Hankins

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10 thoughts on “Freethought San Marcos: In these economically tough times, a bit of relief

  1. From my understanding, Lamar Hankins is an independent columnist and not privy to the funds or financial support of any business, corporation or individual.

  2. It’s about time that someone comes into this market with the initiative to offer the kind of quality I have personally seen from Goodnight & Snell without leaving the families not only mourning for their loss but their pocket books as well. Their experience and compassion is starting to show.

  3. For “joe the coder’s” information, I have been involved with funeral consumer advocacy groups for about 18 years, doing volunteer work, including publishing a quarterly newsletter for 16 years and writing extensively about the industry in both national and local publications. I served for eight years on the board of the Funeral Consumers Alliance. In 2000, at the invitation of Sen. Charles Grassley, I testified before the Senate Special Committee on Aging when they were conducting hearings on prepaid funeral insurance. I have been consulted as an expert witness in funeral litigation. I have lobbied the Texas Legislature for the last 8 sessions on behalf of consumers, without remuneration or expenses.

    When I write about the industry, it is always to educate the public. I wrote this column to provide information not generally known by the public, in an effort to help families avoid paying more money than they have to for funeral services. I’m sorry you think that such information is advertising. When consumer specialist Clark Howard, who is on the advisory board of Funeral Consumers Alliance, gives information about how to save money, I don’t consider that information an advertisement. Was it also advertising to point out that the least expensive direct cremation in this area is available for $775, obviously not from Goodnight & Snell?

  4. Dear Lamar,

    Thanks for this post. I am regularly working hard to find the names of funeral service providers who offer alternative services to people, especially no-embalming, biodegradable coffins, etc. I maintain a list on all my websites of these service providers, and your views and reviews are very much appreciated!

    BTW – what’s the status of the California requirement about embalming required if there’s to be a viewing? Is that still California law? If so, doesn’t that force people who believe that embalming is a desecration of the body to forego a closure process that almost all funeral directors in the US think is necessary for psychological health?

    I specifically say the US, because in the UK they think we’re a bit bonkers for doing the viewings at all…

    Thanks for the update. I’d like to know.

    And BTW – for the person who jibed you about the free advertising — if we continue to require people to be bias-free we’re going to end up with a homogenous, no-options, no stand-outs, boring funeral delivery service stranded in one part of the culture’s customs and leaving out everyone else who relies on word of mouth to become known because they offer alternatives …oops… I guess that’s what we already have…

    Thank you for having an opinion, and for voicing it. I’m all for the mainstream, and I’m all for it changing when it’s going the wrong way! Cows in the middle of the herd can’t change the direction of the stampede – that’s what they need the outriders for!

    Keep that bias coming…

    best,

    Cynthia Beal
    Natural Burial Company

  5. Regarding embalming in California, Josh Slocum, Executive Director of Funeral Consumers Alliance, had this explanation: “No state requires embalming for public viewing except Minnesota. I don’t believe any state requires embalming for a closed casket service. A family is required to embalm in California only if refrigeration isn’t used, and more than 24 hours pass after death. I know of no rule that says the body can’t be taken out of refrigeration for a closed casket service before the burial. Indeed, that would be ridiculous – how would a funeral home even get the body to the cemetery if it couldn’t come out of the refrigerator? Families should be sure the funeral business they use offers refrigeration if that choice is important to them.”

  6. It’s hard to tell from your article but I’m guessing you are around Austin TX? There happens to be two home funeral practitioners there who work together named Donna Belk and Sandy Booth. http://crossingscircle.org/

    The home funeral is the least expensive option and the most rewarding in the right situation.

    I keep a blog with all things green burial and home funeral. I’m glad to read your article and that you are bring this subject into awareness.

    Take good care and thank you.
    Heather

  7. What I wonder is which of the “traditional” caring high priced funeral homes in San Marcos Joe the Coder works for.

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