Relational Spending in Funerals: Caring for Others Loved and Lost

Sarah C. Whitley*, Ximena Garcia-Rada, Fleura Bardhi, Dan Ariely, Carey K. Morewedge

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Funeral rituals perform important social functions for families and communities, but little is known about the motives of people planning funerals. Using mixed methods, we examine funeral planning as end-of-life relational spending. We identify how relational motives drive and manifest in funeral planning, even when the primary recipient of goods and services is dead. Qualitative interviews with consumers who had planned pre-COVID funerals (N = 15) reveal a caring orientation drives funeral decision-making for loved ones and for self-planned funerals. Caring practices manifest in three forms: (a) balancing preferences between the planner, deceased, and surviving family; (b) making personal sacrifices; and (c) spending amount (Study 1). Archival funeral contract data (N = 385) reveal supporting quantitative evidence of caring-driven funeral spending. Planners spend more on funerals for others and underspend on their own funerals (Study 2). Preregistered experiments (N = 1,906) addressing selection bias replicate these results and find generalization across different funding sources (planner-funded, other-funded, and insurance; Studies 3A–3C). The findings elucidate a ubiquitous, emotional, and financially consequential decision process at the end of life.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Consumer Psychology
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)211-231
Number of pages21
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2022
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Published online: 27 March 2021.


  • Funerals
  • Relational spending
  • Financial decision-making
  • Rituals
  • Caring

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