The Financial Costs and Considerations of Burial vs. Cremation

The costs for burial vs. cremation are worth considering and can differ significantly from each other. However, there are also hybrid situations as well. Hybrid options range from a full-service burial with a casket all the way to direct cremation. This article will explore five different options when considering burial vs. cremation, as well as various cremation options in between.

  1. Traditional Burial with a Funeral Service
  2. Cremation with an Open Casket and a Funeral Service.
  3. Cremation Before the Memorial Service
  4. Cremation with a Permanent Resting Place
  5. Direct Cremation

Let’s jump in and explore these options. And again, all of these options can be planned for and paid for in advance to take the burden of finances and decision making off your family’s shoulders so you ensure you get what you want.

1) Traditional Burial with a Funeral Service.

If you choose a traditional burial service, a good average you can expect to spend is between $8,000 – $15,000. These services take planning by very experienced professionals, and their services come with a cost. Here are all the things you need to consider:

  • Refrigeration for the deceased (while waiting for embalming and necessary paperwork)
  • Embalming (which slows the decomposition of the body)
  • Beautician (don’t you want to look nice in the casket?)
  • A casket (prices can range from a few hundred dollars to over $30,000)
  • Viewing in a state room, also known as a wake. (This is a private room, typically in a funeral home, where family and close friends can pay respect in a more intimate setting before the memorial service.)
  • The cost for use of the funeral home chapel.
  • Or, transportation to a chapel of your choice.
  • Flower arrangements for the memorial service.
  • Transportation to the cemetery will include at least a hearse and can include a limo, a lead car, as well as family cars.
  • Cemetery real estate, a plot of land, or mausoleum space that will be the eternal resting place of your loved one.
  • The cost of digging for the plot. As well as built-in long-term costs of cemetery maintenance.
  • Brass or granite markers, headstones, or monuments can run from several hundred to several thousand dollars.

Geography plays an important factor in burial costs as well. If you are laid to rest in a large metropolitan city where land is limited and real estate is expensive, these costs can be very high relative to being buried in the country, where land is plentiful and less expensive.

2) Cremation with an Open Casket and a Funeral Service.

With cremation, some of the same costs of a traditional burial may still apply. Many people prefer to have a full funeral service with an open casket, and all the associated costs of a formal memorial service. However, after the service, instead of transporting the deceased to a cemetery, their loved one is cremated. Choosing cremation in this scenario saves on the following:

  • The casket (a casket can be rented from the funeral home for the service instead of being purchased).
  • It will save on the transportation costs for the hearse and associated family cars.
  • And finally, it will save on the cost of the cemetery burial plot or mausoleum space.

3) Cremation Before the Memorial Service

A less expensive option than those above is when cremation precedes the actual service. In this scenario, your loved one is typically cremated immediately after passing. This avoids the costs of embalming, caskets, beauticians, etc.

This option is often chosen for financial reasons. However, it is also often chosen for timing reasons.  Sometimes family is scattered throughout a state, a country, or even internationally. This option gives the family time to plan the memorial service, allowing additional time to make travel arrangements for friends and family to attend and pay their final respects. 

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4) Cremation with a Permanent Resting Place.

Cemeteries also offer eternal resting places for cremated remains. Rather than placing your loved one on a mantel, or allowing them to be passed from family member to family member, or worse yet, placed in a cardboard box in a closet, garage or attic, there are permanent options.

Most cemeteries offer sites for cremation niche spaces. Like burial or a mausoleum, these spaces are forever, and they do cost extra. These options come in a variety of forms and costs, including:

  • They can be found along the perimeter of formal mausoleums where there are smaller spaces for urns instead of caskets.
  • They can be larger and built to house several urns where family members can be laid to rest together.
  • They can be in a columbarium. A columbarium houses many urns and come in a variety of shapes such as benches, trellises, or larger, octagonal structures typically with some ornate statute on top. These can be multi-family, or a single family can purchase one for its decedents.
  • A growing trend in cremation niche spaces are called glass front niches. These are like curio cabinets so you can actually see into the space.  Along with the urn, mementos and photographs can be placed in this niche as well. And these mementos and photographs can be changed over time. These typically come in 2-3 size options and vary by cemetery.

Cremation niche spaces, like a burial or mausoleum space, provide families with a place to come and visit their loved one on occasions such as birthdays, anniversaries or special holidays. They provide a meaningful place of permanence for family members to visit, respect and reflect.

In Direct Cremation (also known as Direct Disposal in some states), all the frills are taken out of the final arrangements. There is no service, no viewing, no embalming, no hearses or lead cars, or real estate. This simply comes down to what kind of urn, if any, do I want to choose for the cremated remains? And, do I want any keepsakes, such as an ashes pendant or small keepsake urn, to keep my loved one close by?

This is by far the least expensive option. In this scenario, the body is picked up (‘removed’) by a removal service and the body is cremated immediately following a brief period of refrigeration and completing the necessary paperwork by the next of kin. Many of these services even include a small temporary urn for housing the cremated remains. Direct Cremators typically offer a limited urn selection, but you are free to get your urn from anywhere.

One of the advantages of Direct Cremation is the cremated remains can be shipped across state lines easily and can even be transported on airplanes by a loved one. You can read more about this in our article Shipping a Body Across State Lines.

If cost and simplicity is your most important factor, or there were very few, if any, friends or relatives, direct cremation is an affordable and dignified way to take care or your loved one. 

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