Friday, March 7, 2014

Final Expenses: Saving Money on Funeral Costs

Few things in life are more traumatic than the death of a loved one, particularly if it is unexpected and the survivors are abruptly faced with the sad task of planning a memorial service and burial or cremation. There are dozens of details to handle, at a time when the bereaved are in deep shock, overcome with grief, and often not capable of making the most rational decisions. Add to this the understandable desire to see their loved one off in a suitable way that reflects well on everyone – and it’s easy to see how people can be manipulated into spending much more on final expenses than they need to spend or can truly afford. A payday loan could help in these situations to make it possible to give your loved one the service you would like, even when savings are low and this may not have seemed possible initially.

Even people who pre-plan funerals for themselves or a loved one can be vulnerable to the subtle and dignified  –but nevertheless very manipulative – marketing for which the funeral business is notorious. Granted, funeral directors have to make a living like everyone else, but some are truly exploitative and are masters of the unnecessary up-sell.

Whether you are pre-planning arrangements or have been hit with an unexpected need, there are some things you can do to ease the monetary strain if not your heartache. You do not have to simply accept the default or traditional way of doing things. Here are a few points to keep in mind.

1. There is nothing shameful or undignified about wanting to economize. This may be the most important point of all, and the most difficult for some people to accept. A simple, basic funeral or memorial service is just as dignified and respectful as the most lavish, expensive event. There is absolutely nothing shameful about needing or desiring to save money on final expenses, and economizing certainly does not indicate a lack of love and respect for the departed. If you really feel that you must splurge, do so with an after-party that is a true celebration of the person’s life. That’s a more fitting tribute than a solid gold, silk-lined casket or a limo parade.

2. The government may be able to help you with costs. If you or your partner are on a low income and receiving any of a number of specific government benefits, you may be eligible for a Funeral Payment and/or Bereavement Payment from the Social Fund. Check this page to find out more about these benefits:

3. There’s no law that says you have to use a funeral home. Certainly there are laws in place regarding the handling of remains, but there is absolutely no law that says you have to use a funeral home, with all of the expense that involves. More people these days are opting for “do it yourself” arrangements, handling most or all of the details without going through a traditional funeral home. And increasing numbers of funeral directors are adopting more flexible policies where they offer “a la carte” services. For a cost that is much less than an entire package, they will assist the bereaved with certain details, such as keeping the body cool whilst the family is tending to the other arrangements. The Natural Death Centre ( is a wonderful resource for exploring your options and planning a “do it yourself” (or a partially or mostly “do it yourself”) memorial service.

4. You can still save money even if you don’t “do it yourself.” You can economise on virtually every aspect of the funeral: the casket; the handling of the body (embalming is not required by law); vehicles; flowers; memorial marker; the service itself… and the list goes on. Do not let that earnest, soft-spoken sales director talk you into spending more than you can afford – remember, there is nothing shameful or undignified about wanting to economize. The aforementioned Natural Death Centre has a page of suggestions and links for economizing on funeral costs.

As is the case with many choices in life, it’s always better if you can plan ahead – even if you do nothing more than sit down and think about what you want, and write down your wishes so your family will know when the time comes. But sometimes planning ahead is simply not feasible. The important thing to remember is that there is plenty of help available to assist you in making the best decision, making this difficult time a little easier on everyone involved.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Forced to Kill at 5 Years Old – The Former Child Soldier Now Campaigning for Free the Children

Hardly a day goes by that we are not exposed to the horrors of war as news reports from around the world bring the carnage into our living rooms. But you can’t get the whole story from pictures – you can’t experience the smells of death, decay and cordite; you can’t feel the pain of the wounded; and, you can get no real sense of the horror and fear pervading the lives of those caught up in conflict. Only by being there can you truly understand the meaning of war.

Soldiers understand; they see war first hand, up close and personal.  Michel Chikwanine was a soldier, so he knows. Nothing unusual in that you might think, until you learn that he was just five years old when he was “conscripted” into an army.

Growing up in Beni, a town in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo not far from the Uganda border, Michel was playing football after school with friends when they were grabbed by rebels. Hauled away into the jungle to train as soldiers, they were drugged and blindfolded. Young Michel was handed an AK-47 and told to shoot it. When the blindfold was removed he found that he had killed his best friend.

In a way, Michel was one of the lucky ones. Two weeks later, he managed to escape, surviving in the jungle for three days before finding a storekeeper who took him home. Sadly, however, tragedy was to return to Michel’s family.

When civil war broke out in 1998, Michel’s father criticised the actions of the soldiers of the Movement for the Liberation of the Congo and was subsequently kidnapped, remaining in captivity for seven months before making his escape to Uganda. While he was away, soldiers broke into the family home and forced Michel to watch at gunpoint as his mother and two older sisters (aged 16 and 18) were raped in front of him. He was just 10.

Michel managed to locate his father and arranged for his mother, younger sister and himself to move to Uganda too, the older sisters having run away due to the shame of being raped. In 2001, his father died in a Ugandan refugee camp after being poisoned.

Three years later, Michel found refuge in Canada with his mother and younger sister. It was to be another seven years before one of his older sisters, the other having been killed, could join them in Canada with their children.

Michel was inspired to talk of his experiences and become a motivational speaker by Free the Children and worked as an O Ambassador with Oprah Winfrey’s roots of Action tour. His hope, he says, is that his story will help other people overcome their own struggles.

And, in all he does, he tries to aspire to the last words spoken by his father before he died: “Always know that great men and great women are not described by their money or their success but rather what they do for other people.”

Free The Children is an international charity and educational partner that believes in a world where all children are free to achieve their fullest potential as agents of change.   Follow them on Twitter @freethechildren.