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Should funerals count as emergencies?

Recently, the SSC household has been dealing with loss. Mrs. SSC’s grandmother, after whom our baby girl was named, peacefully succumbed to age. As the final weeks of her life drew near the urgency with which to make plans, get plane tickets, hotel reservations, car rental all grew and grew. It was a very stressful time for everyone involved, particularly Mrs. SSC and her father who are over-planners. As we waited to see if Mrs. SSC’s grandmother would pull out of it and get better, we watched prices go up, down, up, and up some more. Eventually, she did pass away in her sleep, and we made preparations to travel across the country to pay our respects.  Luckily, we are currently in a financial position that money was not an object in planning travel.  I mean, don’t get me wrong – the airlines robbed us, but we are fortunate enough to be still be able to pay bills, and not have to ponder whether or not we should travel.

All of these preparations got me to thinking about when I lost my dad and my grandparents, years ago.  I wasn’t in nearly as comfortable of a place financially and it would almost break me every time I would need to travel for funerals. Besides the added costs of last-minute trips, I was also losing time at work. With hourly jobs, sure you may be able to take the time off, but now you’re paying a lot for traveling to say goodbye, and you’re going to get a shorter paycheck in the subsequent weeks. Back then, I wasn’t ever disciplined enough to have a “real” emergency fund, so I couldn’t dip into that when needed. I would scramble around trying to rummage up enough money for the trip home, inevitably putting the costs on my credit card, where they would sit for months and years accruing interest.

When my father passed away, I was in a little better spot, but it was still almost $800 for a plane ticket, ~$250 for a hotel, and ~$200 for a rental car. Yes, I could have stayed with family, but my family tends to stress me out with their bickering, in-fighting, and excessive drinking. It was well worth it to have a place to go that was stress free.  The costs were  a little higher when my grandfather passed a few years back, requiring travel near the always-expensive Thanksgiving holiday, but even staying with family then, it was still close to $1100. Mrs. SSC’s trip last weekend cost about ~$1200, even splitting the rental car with her parents.  Having that ~$1000-$1500 available for such last-minute travel is not a luxury that many people have, but it’s a cost that many of us have to bear, unfortunately too many times in our lives. When my Aunt passed away this last spring, it was again around $1000 for a single lane ticket, rental car, and hotel. We almost donated the money to cancer research instead, but I felt I needed to go, so I went.

I never thought about planning for “funeral money” in the emergency fund until this past week. Even in our household, budgets and monthly savings are going to be adjusted to help offset this recent unexpected expense. None of us expect someone to pass away, and even when they are very old or in very poor health, we never plan on the expenses for their funeral until the week prior to their passing, if you’re fortunate enough to get that kind of warning time. Even then, who can pull $1200 out of the air to accommodate those extra costs. Like us and most people, it will go on a credit card to be dealt with later, when the pain and grieving isn’t so bad. Now I am realizing that having that emergency fund to help offset the funeral costs is a big help. If you’re like me, I thought of emergency fund in terms of “emergency problems”, and if you’re like me, it was not nearly robust enough to cover 6 months of expense, let alone 2 months of expense. Really, who keeps emergency funds that really can cover 6 months or more of expenses? I know I wasn’t disciplined enough to do that, and I always blamed that I didn’t have enough extra cash to set that much aside, much less enough to cover more than the occasional car repair, school books each semester, etc… I didn’t plan on needing an extra $1000 in there to cover funeral related travel expenses. Unfortunately though, I found that if you want to have a true emergency fund, making sure it can handle that sort of unexpected hit is something you may want to consider.

Much like wills, this is an awkward topic, and one most people avoid because it makes them feel uncomfortable or sad, because they are reminded of past funerals they have attended and loved ones who aren’t here anymore. The last thing any of our loved ones would want is for us to get put out by coming to their funeral. Yet, invariably, we all are put out by it in many ways. Emotionally, financially, and even with schedules being changed to accommodate a last-minute “trip” back home, or wherever they live. It’s just a thought I had, that a specific emergency fund for funerals might not be a bad idea. (although Mrs. SSC says she would rather invest that money then sit on even more cash). For me personally, I wouldn’t have been able to replace my emergency fund quickly enough during grad school had I used it towards funeral travel expenses, as I lost 2 grandparents and my father within 18 months of each other, but hopefully, that’s probably not typical for most people.

My point is after having two funerals come up this year, and each one costing around $1000 +/- it seemed a topic that may be worth addressing. While it may seem morbidly specific to have an emergency fund set aside for funeral travel, or even those funds accounted for in your present emergency fund, if you get hit with the double whammy of a car breakdown time adjacent to a funeral, what was already stretched thin may just break. Maybe you are way more financially diligent than me and already have a well stocked emergency fund that can absorb the hit of a car repair, and impromptu travel, but if not, it’s something to consider. By accounting for that travel and related expenses in your emergency fund now, it can be one less thing to worry about when you are already dealing with loss and sadness.

4 thoughts on “Should funerals count as emergencies?

  1. Emily @ Simple Cheap Mom

    My condolences for your loss.

    I think it would be less morbid to pay for funeral travel from an emergency fund than from a specific fund where you guess who will die each year and how much it will cost to get to their specific funeral.

    Some funerals I have travelled to attend, and sometimes I have decided to grieve in my own way. Funds came out of my travel budget.

    1. Mr SSC Post author

      I agree and am not trying to promote a “funeral fund” per se, that would be pretty cold and morbid. I had just never thought about that situation in that respect. With these last two funerals being fairly close, and being more money conscious now, I realized that most of the time it was an unplanned $1000+ situation. Never having had a real emergency fund, or travel fund back when things were stretched tight, it was a hindsight, “Dang, that would have been really helpful to have had some reserve of money to draw from back then.”

  2. Baroness Prudent Spending

    SSC Family,

    I am very sorry for your loss.

    I am one of the oddballs in that I do not find death to be that morbid since it is part of the cycle of life. I keep a large emergency fund (greater than 6 months) because I’m on my own and if I was out of work it could take me a year or longer to find another job. I also have a few different savings accounts that I can tap in this sort of situation.

    One thing I have found to be helpful is to create a “family” savings account/emergency fund. The reality for many of us is that we are going to have expenses that are related to our family members. You might use the account for funerals, but also births, christenings, weddings etc. You might save an amount to ease the initial shock of caring for an older parent, etc. It will all depend on how your family is made up. It doesn’t have to be a lot of money but it can help with a sudden expense as well as alleviate some of the anger/annoyance one sometimes feels with *certain* family individuals :-)


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