(A “behind the scenes” guest post by Greg Johnson)
A few months ago, J. Money posted about the 6 Best (And Highest Paying Jobs) in America. I was completely shocked to find that my line of work wasn’t at the top of that list. Shocked, I tell you!
I mean, I wear a suit and tie to work every day. I am well-known in my community. Often times, my picture may be in the newspaper for attending various fundraisers or for donating to different charities. You can find me driving brand new black Cadillacs on a regular basis. On Thursdays, I even wear my super special cuff-links. Glamorous, right?
Then, I got to thinking about all the unsexy parts of my job that probably kept it off the list. Behind all of this glitz and glam, my job does have a few more… uh… disturbing requirements. You know, the whole wiping up somebody’s doody after they’ve expired. Or maybe those 3 A.M. phone calls I get where I’m required to drag my keister out of bed to collect splattered body parts off the freeway. There may be some who don’t consider replacing another person’s blood with formaldehyde to be much of a perk either. It was then that I came to terms with the fact that being a mortician may not be everyone’s cup of tea.
Behind the Scenes with a Living Grim Reaper
While embalming dead bodies may not be your idea of a great gig, being a funeral director really is an interesting job. The pay is decent – I make about $60,000 a year – but it requires a lot of sacrifice to earn that money. Luckily, I work for people who do a great job taking care of their employees. Being that funeral homes are typically very small businesses, many funeral directors do not have the opportunity to enroll in a company sponsored health insurance plan or contribute to a 401k. Our company offers both, so I am thankful for that. I also get 20 days of “Paid Time Off” which is nice.
Although it may seem like my only job is to stand around and chat with people during a visitation, the truth is that by the time you see me there, all of the hard work has already been done. Being a mortician requires a keen eye for detail, the ability to work under a deadline, and the ability to organize multiple tasks all at once. It also requires one to work with all types of different personalities under immense stress… and to do it in a compassionate way.
Oh yeah, then there is the part about making dead people look – well – as close to not dead as possible.
In addition, most people forget how crazy a mortician’s work schedule can be. It is not uncommon for me to put in over 50+ hours a week… plus some weekends and holidays. Aside from a select few other jobs, most people never have to worry about getting woken up at 3:00 A.M. to be called in to work. Few people understand what it is like to be called away from your family’s Christmas dinner – or your daughter’s birthday party – in order to go and take care of somebody else’s family. As much as I’ve tried to spread the word, people just don’t seem to want to die between the hours of 8-5, Monday through Friday!!! I mean, what gives?!? Seriously, how rude can you be? ;)
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining here. Obviously, somebody has died and I take my responsibilities to each family very seriously. I really do feel honored when somebody trusts me enough to take care of their deceased loved one. Furthermore, I knew all of these things before I chose to be a funeral director. Yet, sometimes while preparing the badly decomposed body of a person who was found weeks after their death, I begin to wonder what in the heck I was thinking about when I went back to mortuary school. There has to be easier ways to make a living, right?
On the flip side, there is a lot of personal satisfaction that I get from being able to help people at one of the worst moments of their life. Not everybody has a job where they get to come home feeling warm and fuzzy because their work has made an impact on somebody else’s life. That is a good feeling, and I get to experience it on almost a daily basis.
What Does This Have to do With Personal Finance?
Over the years, I’ve learned a lot of things in the funeral business. I have learned a lot about running a business. I’ve also learned how to handle all types of personalities. I’ve even learned the proper technique for lint rolling a corpse. While that is all great, this is a personal finance website. So, here are a few things about personal finance that I’ve learned from working in the funeral business.
1) Buy Yo Self Some Life Insurance, Fool!
Since you are reading this, I’m assuming that you do breathe, right? You have blood pumping through your veins. You are currently a living human being with thoughts, desires, and dreams. I hate to be the one to break it to you, but one day all of that will stop. Yes, unfortunately, being alive also means that someday you will die. Death will eventually come calling for you regardless of how hard you try to ignore or avoid it. However, you can prepare your family financially for this certainty. Buy yourself some life insurance NOW!
Not only can life insurance help with your final expenses, but it will provide your family with funds to live on should you lose your income because… well… you died. For those of you who already have life insurance, make sure that your beneficiary information is up to date. Your current wife might be mildly upset if your ex-wife received your $100,000 life insurance payout simply because you were too lazy to change the beneficiary info. Don’t be a boso. Do it today.
2) Money is a Tool for Earning Freedom
Occasionally, I think it is helpful for all of us to ask ourselves why we are working. Unfortunately, I think we lose sight of our ultimate goals and instead find ourselves focused solely on the money. We forget about what is truly important to us. We end up working longer and harder than is necessary in order to earn ever-increasing amounts of money – which we use to buy stuff that our family really doesn’t need. But, how much money is enough? We forget that money itself has no real value. The value of money resides in what it can do to help you reach your goals. Yet, we sometimes sacrifice more than we need to in order to obtain it.
Of course, not having to worry about money can help to create security for your family. It can provide you with the opportunity to spend more time doing the things you love – which, to me, is truly freedom. Remember this: rich people die too. When you find yourself working to become rich, ask yourself why you want to be rich in the first place. You may be closer to what you truly want than you ever realized. With that being said…
3) Time is Our Most Precious Asset
It took me a long time to realize this, but time is really the only thing we have that truly matters. We can’t make more of it. Once it is gone, we can never get it back. For me, working around death is a constant reminder of this fact. Furthermore, because of the schedule that I work, I’ve learned that my family time is extremely important to me. My children are growing up right before my eyes, which occasionally makes me question whether or not the long and odd hours are worth it. At the moment, that answer is still yes. Still, as I mentioned earlier, sometimes we don’t realize how close we already are to having what we truly want.
Constantly working around death tends to put things into perspective. I hope this look behind the scenes has been useful and entertaining. If you have any questions or just need somebody to play a totally boss Grim Reaper at your next costume party, fire away in the comments below!
Greg Johnson is a proud husband, father, and debt crusader who is in the process of becoming debt free. Along with his wife, he co-founded the blog Club Thrifty, where they encourage people to “Stop spending. Start living.”
[Photo credit: Andrea Schaffer]
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My parents have already planned and paid for their final arrangements and have suggested I do the same. I am reluctant to do so as I am still living up the single life. I work internationally and don’t really know where I’ll be next or what I want my final arrangements to be. I would however like to set aside money to cover the cost should I suddenly die. I have already arranged to have my body shipped back to the States should I die while abroad, but don’t now how much more I should set aside. Any suggestions?
Hmmm…the international bit throws a wrench into things a bit. In your case, I would probably stay away from a prepaid funeral plan. However, I would probably suggest buying some sort of a term life insurance policy to cover costs of services once you get back to the States. If you are unable to purchase it because you live over seas now, perhaps your parents could take one out on you from home. If they so desired, you could even pay the premiums/pay the back for the premiums. That way your expenses would be covered.
Have you ever thought of going into business for yourself? I always thought that most funeral parlors were mostly family businesses.
The place I work at is family owned. We have 6 full-time employees. Originally, the plan was definitely to own our own place. However, after doing this for nearly a decade I’ve realized that is no longer the path I want to take. Most of the real small funeral homes are run by only 1 or 2 people, which means an even worse schedule with even more stress. No thanks.
Totally agree. Being on call 24 hours a day is hard to explain if you’ve never experienced it and I definitely don’t want to take on even more responsibility. Owning our own place would mean being responsible for our own on call times and everyone else’s. That is no real way to live.
Do you work there too, Holly? Or only if you guys owned and ran your own place, you would? I agree it’s a lot of responsibility to take on. Not that it’s totally the same, but it reminds me of when I wanted to open up my own thrift store last year :) Super exciting and fun to think about, but being locked in a store all day long (and all weekend too, probably) is just too much to handle. Not to mention all the inventory you then have to worry about, etc etc… So for now I consign here and there and enjoy the perks that gives :)
Yes, she works with us as well.
You’re right. Unfortunately, the funeral home isn’t one of those businesses that you can just automate and leave. There is no “4-Hour Workweek” to be had. That is one of the biggest downfalls of the job.
I think the best thing about your job is that you’re constantly reminded how valuable every day is. It gets away from a lot of us fairly easily but I bet that isn’t something that escapes you very often.
Honestly, that part of it is a blessing and a curse:)
This was a great insight into a world that most people don’t care to examine very closely. Thanks for the reading! I don’t feel quite so bad about all the jokes I crack around dead people now. I have to say that as a police officer, I too deal with death on a fairly regular basis. It becomes “normal” and routine. I am used to seeing people at their very worst, and all I ever know about them is what I can see in the place where they died. And honestly, it’s almost never the peaceful, serene thing that the movies say it is. But when my own grandfather passed away, and I went to his viewing, I was reminded of something else. Because of people like you, J. Money, I was able to see the dignity that was afforded to my grandfather after his passing. It made a big impression on me. So thank you for what you do, and the peace you offer to those left behind.
I’m glad you enjoyed the story. It is true, death is rarely pretty. As a mortician, it is my job to try and give people that last memory picture of somebody at peace. I take my job very seriously, but you have to have a sense of humor as well. I hope that was conveyed in the piece.
I LOVE your blog idea!!! The behind the scenes with a cop, haha… that is awesome. I hope you keep running with it :)
fascinating trip behind the scenes of a mortuary, thanks for sharing. Your last two point reminded me of Woody Allen’s movie everyone says I love you where the dead guy gets out of his coffin and sings “enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think”. I guess those are lessons that no matter how many times we hear, we will always regret not to have listened later in life.
So true. Our time really is limited. Let’s make the most of it!
I hope I never forget that time is the most valuable thing in the world and you can never get it back once it’s gone – No amount of money can buy time.
Unfortunately, that is so true.
I’ve been dying to leave a comment on this post, Greg (I know, I’m on fire!). I read a quote recently that said between time and money, always choose time, because if you wish, you can use time to get more money.
I love that quote Joe! I am totally going to steal that from you and not credit you or the original author.
Yeah! Me too! Haha… Actually, I’m gonna go Tweet it right now ;) Take that, Greg!
Arrgh! Too slow on the draw! Well played J!
When my mother died a few years ago, the funeral home my family chose was run by a family that were members of the church I grew up in. It was nice to have people who actually knew the deceased taking care of her and us. I went to high school with two members of the family, a girl my age and a boy a year older. I am comforted by the fact that the son has chosen to work in the family business. There is a lot to be said for continuity in that line of work. And it was nice to see a familiar face taking care of us at the viewing.
I’m glad to hear that you had a positive experience. There is a lot to be said for a familiar face, which is why I am proud to work at a smaller firm in a relatively small city where we personally know many of the people we serve.
I second.. get some life insurance you fool! We are dealing with the death of my husband’s uncle and if he did not have life insurance, we would have been sunk.
He didn’t leave a will, estate has to be probated.
Costs assoicated with this?
Legal fees 4000.00
Court fees 1000.00
Back taxes on house 15000.00
He had a county fine on home 3000.00
Costs to get house ready to sell.. 4-7000.00 It is an old house, needs lots of work.
26000.00 already, we couldn’t do that out of our own pockets at all! LIFE INSURANCE
is not for you, it is for your loved ones to help take care of all these expenses. GET it!
That is absolutely true. Life insurance is for the people you leave behind.
Wowwwww that is insane. I mean, I’ve always heard it’s good to get for those reasons (and I say it here on the blog all the time) but to see the hard NUMBERS like that is just ridiculous. Life Insurance really IS for those loved ones around us! Jeez!
I think everyone needs to look at their own situation. I’m going to say something unpopular here, but not everyone needs life insurance. If you have enough assets, a paid off house and no debt, then you may just want to self insure. Feel free to disagree with me. Of course the hard part is getting to the point in your life you can actually do this.
Great guest post! I really enjoyed the insights into this industry.
Thanks Brian! I’m glad you enjoyed it.
Actually, I don’t disagree with you. Not everybody needs life insurance, particularly if you are independently wealthy. Most of us, however are in a different situation, especially when we are younger. That is why I have a 30-year term policy on myself. That will cover my mortgage, funeral expenses, and have plenty left over for a few years to replace my income. It is less than $20 a month too. By the time the term is up, I should have my finances in order to be self-insured. If I don’t, then I haven’t done a very good job with my money.
I have a family to think about, and – in my line of work – I have seen far too many people leave their survivors in a pinch. So, in general, I would tell most everybody to get life insurance.
I love this post Greg! I seriously considered entering this field. My moms cousin run a very successful funeral home in another province. All great points :) Speaking of which…I reallly need to increase my Life insurance!
Thanks Catherine! I’m glad you enjoyed it! Funeral families unite!!!!
This was an awesome read and very entertaining. Time is definitely something that shouldn’t be taken for granted. I think most of us think we’re going to live forever, so time just seems to be something we feel we’ll always have.
I agree with Brian and life insurance, that is why I have term and not whole life because once my term is over I will be able to self insure.
Thanks for the kind words CMWYWEC. Like you, I also am a big fan of term life. I think whole life is, usually, a bad investment choice. Also, I plan to self insure after the term as well.
Nuttttssss! By the way you talk about it, it sounds like you’re clearly pretty desensitized to seeing dead folks and gruesome scenes. Have you always been that way? Did it build over time? I really don’t think I could handle it. So thank goodness there are good folks like you to handle such an important societal role of saying goodbye to our loved ones.
Fascinating post. I loved watching Six Feet Under on HBO back in the day. I’d be interested to hear your take on that show.
I loved Six Feet Under, both for the content and because I love great acting and storylines (Once upon a time I graduated with a degree in theatre as well.).
Going into it, I certainly wasn’t as comfortable with everything as I am now. I think, over time, you do become desensitized to some of the things that you see. Honestly, the more “normal” deaths become somewhat routine, although you still empathize with the families who have lost somebody. However, some things never become easier – especially the deaths of young people or children. Furthermore, some of the things never quite leave you. For instance, there is one place in particular that I drive by several times a week on my way into the city. Each time I drive by, I think about the call that I took at that spot. You get to the point where you think you’ve seen it all; then, something else happens to catch you off guard. Still, you have to have a sense of humor about it otherwise some of it would just be tough to deal with.
In the end, you learn to deal with it by realizing that death is the final stage in life. Unfortunately, no matter how hard we try, none of us can escape it. Death is the price we pay for living.
That was one of the biggest reasons I wanted you to write this post out, Greg – the humor really made it come to life! (bad dum ching) Plus your style is really conversational and fun anyways, but much better to read and soak this in from someone like you than another stiff out there ;) (I can’t stop myself!)
One of my favorite TV shows (of all times) is Six Feet Under. Ever watched it? It is about being a mortician (apart other things.)
I loved your story but I have to admit that not everyone can do this job. I would not go to collect splattered body parts no matter how much you pay me!
Yes, I loved Six Feet Under. Great show! There was a lot of talk throughout the funeral industry that the show depicted the funeral profession in a bad light. Of course, the profession is very conservative by nature, so I think a lot of that had to do with some of the gay themes, unfortunately. Yet, the show is really about the interesting characters who just happen to work in a funeral home. I think it depicts real people, who work where different masks in their work, their family life, and their personal lives. Really, we all do that to an extent.
(Sorry for the rant. I just really loved that show!)
I also find it funny that Michael C. Hall went on to become Dexter who helped put more people in funeral homes :) Although actually that’s not exactly true either, now is it… He laid everyone in the ocean!
Great post Greg! I always figured someone in your line of work would have a crazy schedule, but not to the extent you described. My biggest takeaway, and one I have learned through the loss of our son several years ago, is that time is so much more valuable than money. You can generally find ways to make SOME money at any time, however there is really nothing you can do to get more time. It’s a great reminder to live life to the fullest and enjoy it.
Thanks for the encouragement!
I’m not sure that I knew you had lost a son. I would never wish that on any parent. I’ m sorry.
I totally agree. Time is more valuable than money. The loss of a loved one can certainly drive that home. I learned that after the loss of my brother, and I remember it every day at my work.
Interesting. I’ve never stopped to think very much about the ins and outs of being a mortician, like the on-call part. Interesting. One thing I do know is that almost all of the hole digging at the local cemeteries is done at night. As teenagers, we could hear the equipment when we were hanging out a few blocks away.
Zoinks! I’m not sure that I’d even like to be in a cemetery at night. I can do an embalming room just fine, but a cemetery seems creepy to me! Ha! :)
At night! Yeah!
I love this post! I wanted to be a funeral director for years, but the only school nearby that offered a program for it was a private institution that was wayyyy too expensive. All our local funeral homes are small and family owned, so no openings or internships. I find it fascinating and agree that life insurance is a must.
Thanks Angella! Funeral school can be very expensive, and one of the hardest parts is trying to get your foot in the door after graduation. It can be very difficult to find an internship because the businesses are usually so small. I’ve been lucky in that I have been able to work for great people ever since I began my career.
Greg, I thoroughly enjoyed this piece! You had me at, “Get Yo Self Some Insurance, Fool!” I knew you were cool peeps instantly :)
On a serious note, you’ve nailed it– life insurance is critical. I’m 35, and have a $600,000 policy that costs me about $101 a month (damn dad died of a heart attack, so the rate’s a bit higher). But it feels nice knowing that my family won’t be in financial trouble because of my death.
To add to it, getting your paperwork in place is good, too– durable power of attorney, including a will, and whatever other paper should be in place, is a good idea, too. I STILL haven’t done this yet, but I’m planning to very soon.
Thanks for the laughs and great article!
Sweet! I’m glad I fooled you into thinking I am cool;) Bonus!
You’re right; life insurance is important but getting your other paperwork together is important too. That reminds me that I need to get my will and my living will in place as well!!!
man, $600,000 is great – Ours is half that and I think it’s time to increase ours too now that we have a wee one and all… Although both the mrs and I have one at $350k so at least both of us are covered.
Great post Greg. This is something that you don’t really think about, but you “live” it everyday. Sorry for the horribly placed pun. Your last part about time being precious is a great reminder that sometimes we need to put down our technology, step away from the computer and just spend time with loved ones. While you don’t get paid to do it, there is nothing more rewarding, unless you don’t like your loved ones ;)
Horribly placed pun? Did you read the title of my post?!? I love me some bad puns!
Yeah, I think we all struggle with stepping away sometimes. I love my family, love watching my kids grow, but I still have to remind myself to stop and smell the roses. It is hard (especially when you have a day job AND are blogging) but I don’t want to miss out on life either.
I absolutely agree on life insurance! My dad bought me some days after I was born. It’s actually still my only policy, worth about $23,000. As a single person with no debt (not even a mortgage or student loans) and some savings, I feel that what I have will cover any expenses. I also have a legal will (no big court costs for my family!).
The average cost for a full-service funeral in my area is $7000. I re-evaluate costs and my life situation once a year to see if I need to up my life insurance. My life insurance is paid up and collecting interest, and so far costs haven’t gone up faster than my interest accumulates.
Well that was nice of your dad! I’ve considered getting our baby some insurance too, but not sure we’re ready for that yet… Cool to see it in practice though – thanks for sharing :)
It was very smart of my dad! A few days later, I became very ill and was 3-years-old before I was expected to survive. If he hadn’t gotten the life insurance so soon, they wouldn’t have been able to. If I died, they would have had to foot the bill out of savings, which is something a young couple reeling from a death didn’t need. Luckily, I lived and get the benefit as an adult for a fraction of what it would cost now (inflation and all).
Oh wow! And now here you are talking to us – I love it! I’m so glad you survived too :)
Hey I Acutually want to be a mortician when i get older ! Im Excited and not scared at all im 16 years old and want to learn about the funeral industry
My advice to you is to go to your local funeral home and tell them you are interested in working part-time for them. That way you will get to see what it is all about first hand before you actually commit to going to school. It is a great profession, and the industry will desperately need more funeral directors over the next few years as the population continues to age.
Does anyone think that women can be morticians too? Is this just a job for men? Do you think there is sexism in this feild?
Yes, no, and yes. Over 50% of mortuary school students are now female. There are a lot of great female funeral directors out there. However, in many places, the funeral industry is still a boys’ club. The best thing female funeral directors can do is to prove these D-bags wrong by showing that they are able to do everything a guy can do – embalm, lift, etc.
im starting funeral college next month, and ive always wanted to own my own funeral home and Cemetery. any advice on a 19 year old girl with a passion since she was 7? mentality? financially? Sleep schedule haha?
Congratulations! Good luck at mortuary school. As far as advice goes, one of the most important things you can do is act and look professional. Don’t be a weirdo. You’d be surprised how many people we see trying to get a job that come in looking like they just rolled out of bed. For better or for worse, the funeral industry is a very conservative looking (and sometimes thinking) industry. So, when you are 60 miles from home, you can look and act how you want. However, when you are on the job, you have to look and act the part. If you are looking to be an owner, save as much money as you can right now. You’ll need it to buy the business. And as the years go by, there will be times when you people will wear you down. Try to remember why you started out in the business to begin with – helping grieving people in need. Good luck and hopefully this was helpful. Feel free to send me a private email at my website if you have any more questions.
How hard can it be to get your foot in the door in this line of work?
You can walk in or you can roll in.
I need help should i go to school for mortuary school