Though it's been around for thousands of years, cremation can feel like a fresh, new option. Without the heavy associations of traditional burial, it can feel less emotionally burdensome to family and friends left behind.
Cost can be a positive consideration, but it’s not necessarily true that the price difference between cremation and burial is substantial. The cost can be nearly the same, depending on the options a family chooses—a cremation can be as simple or as celebratory as you wish.
Simple cremation will certainly cost less than a cremation with a viewing and a celebration of life. But some families will consider the latter a way of creating priceless memories. The choices really are a matter of religious customs, family tradition and personal preference. Let your heart be your guide.
In this article you will learn:
Why choose cremation over burial?
More Americans today choose cremation over burial. In fact, the Cremation Association of North America estimates that by 2023, 59.4 percent of Americans and 76.9 percent of Canadians will make the choice. There are many reasons people choose cremation for themselves or their loved ones.
Some of the most common reasons are:
Religion: In recent years, religious attitudes about cremation have shifted. Many religions, such as Catholicism and Judaism, that were once strongly against cremation, are now more accepting of the practice. In addition, more Americans identify as not affiliated with a particular religion, and they may choose cremation over burial.
Budget: Some families choose cremation because it can be a less expensive option—though cost differences vary widely and depend on factors such as whether there's a service before or after and disposition of the cremated remains.
Environmental concerns: Some people see cremation as more eco-friendly than burial, since when there's not a viewing it doesn't use embalming chemicals and requires less space even with cemetery burial.
Flexible timing: Cremation allows for as much time as you need to plan a funeral, memorial or celebration of life. You can hold a viewing for nearby family and friends before the cremation and then host a larger memorial or scattering service weeks or months later for friends and family who need to make travel plans and take off work. That's especially beneficial for those who live in different parts of the country or world.
Creative memorialization: Cremation allows for so many special options for the lasting remembrance of a loved one. Cremated remains can be placed in an ocean reef or sent into space. They can be incorporated into jewelry and art, pressed into vinyl records, made into fireworks, placed in a mausoleum niche or outdoor columbarium, memorialized near a loved one in a private mausoleum or ground space, or scattered from a mountaintop or into the sea. The options are endless and can be as unique as the life being honored.
Why cremations may be less expensive than traditional funerals
According to the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA), the national median cost of a burial with funeral and viewing in 2021 was $9,420.
The national median cost of cremation with funeral and viewing in 2021 was $5,365 (without cremation casket and urn). That’s a difference of almost $4,000 without cremation casket and urn. However, when you add those items, the total cost was $6,970, which is about $2,500 less than a typical burial funeral.
Cremation can cost less than burial for several reasons:
A traditional cemetery burial is often preceded by a funeral or followed by a memorial. Families who choose cremation also often choose not to have a funeral or memorial service, or they choose a simpler, smaller or more casual option. Savings: about $500.
Traditional funerals are often preceded by a visitation or viewing, which families who choose cremation often skip. That saves on the funeral director's time and costs to embalm the loved one, hair and makeup, facility and staffing fees, and more. Savings: about $1,125.
Traditional cemetery burial comes with a number of costs that families who choose to scatter ashes in a personally meaningful place or to keep ashes at home may not incur, including a graveside service and transportation, a burial casket and a burial vault. Savings: $3,985—and that's before the cost of cemetery property, opening and closing fees, and a marker.
What are the hidden costs of cremation?
Cremation comes with hidden costs, some purely financial and some emotional. In the first group are things like a casket rental for a funeral. In the second group are considerations pertaining to saying a final goodbye or how to handle cremated remains.
- Crematory costs: If a provider does not own its own crematory, it can exclude the actual cremation cost from the initial price and add it afterward. The NFDA estimates third-party cremations costs were $368 in 2021.
- Cremation container: Some states have laws that require cremation containers, which are boxes for loved ones' bodies during cremation. While most providers include a cardboard box as part of a standard package, there are other options. For example, some families may feel better about the choice of a wood container that, though not as expensive as a casket, is nicer than a cardboard box.
- Attention to detail and chain of custody: Some cremation providers own their own crematories, either on the same property or at another location. Either way, those providers retain control over a loved one's body at all times. It's never passed to a third-party. Such providers may charge more for their services, but knowing who is caring for your loved one at all times seems worth it to some. Likewise, providers with high ratings and long histories are more likely to employ experienced team members who pay attention to every detail and devote themselves to excellent customer service.
- The importance of a final goodbye: Though a cremation may not include a service of any kind, many individuals and families opt for some kind of ceremony after the cremation. Whether small or large, formal or casual, a memorial or celebration of life brings people together to remember their loved one, connect over the good times, comfort one another and begin the healing process.
End-of-life ceremonies are an important part of being human, and the comfort of joining with others in grief—sharing tears and laughter—can be a vital part of the healing process.
- Receipt of a loved one's remains: Unless you choose otherwise, some cremation providers return a loved one’s ashes in a cardboard box or plastic bag. This can feel very undignified and create an additional sadness for the family. That sadness can be avoided with the choice of a beautiful urn of stone, wood, metal or glass. If the family plans on scattering, there are eco-friendly decorative tubes and biodegradable or marine-safe containers just for that purpose. Though some families choose to have cremated remains returned to them by mail, this, too, can create a kind of sadness. That's why some families opt for quick, intimate gatherings at the funeral home. Even if it's only a few people for a few moments, such an event can provide a great deal of comfort and closure.
- Disposition of a loved one’s remains: It’s important to consider what will happen with a loved one's cremated remains—or ashes—after cremation. If they are to be scattered somewhere far from family, travel costs may be incurred. On the other hand, if the ashes are kept at home, they can be forgotten in a closet or lost during a move. For that reason, you may elect to have ashes buried, scattered or inurned at a cemetery. Siblings or grandchildren may opt to share cremated remains in keepsake urns or as part of cremation jewelry or artwork.
What Affects Funeral and Cremation Costs?
There are hundreds of decisions that must be made when planning a funeral, cremation or memorial service, and making funeral arrangements can often seem confusing or overwhelming. Because there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to planning a funeral or memorial service, there are different costs and expenses to consider. Learn what to expect and get your free Guide to Understanding Funeral and Cremation Costs today.
Do you need a viewing or memorial service?
How you choose to remember your loved one is deeply personal, influenced by factors such as religious views, your loved one's wishes, cultural traditions and more.
Though a viewing or memorial service is never required, you may choose to have a ceremony of some sort as a way of saying a final goodbye surrounded by people you care about—and who care about you.
Why some people choose to have a funeral with a viewing
Choosing cremation doesn't mean you have to forgo a visitation, funeral or memorial. In fact, many families choose to have a viewing and funeral before cremation. As with burial, the loved one is embalmed and placed in a casket for the viewing and funeral, and then the cremation takes place. Other families skip the viewing and funeral but do host a memorial or celebration of life after the cremation. Still others might opt for a viewing, skip the funeral and hold a celebration of life after cremation. When you choose cremation, there are many different ways to say goodbye.
Though a viewing, funeral, memorial and/or celebration of life adds to the overall cost of cremation, these options provide chances for family and friends to come together to pay tribute to a loved one's life and to begin to come to terms with the loss of a loved one.
Cremation vs. burial—pros and cons
Traditional burial or cremation is an entirely personal choice. Your religious beliefs may mean that cremation is not a consideration, or your family may simply be more comfortable with burial over cremation. Consider your culture and preferences, think over the the pros and cons, and make a choice that feels best in your heart.
Benefits of cremation
- Can have a memorial before or after
- Can cost less than burial
- More environmentally friendly
- Ashes are easily transported
- Ashes can be divided among family members
- There are many options for the disposition of cremated remains
Disadvantage of cremation
- Does not align with all religious beliefs
- Does not allow for a body to be exhumed later
- Those who choose simple cremation and forgo a final service can find it more difficult to move through their grief
- There's no way to ensure where the loved one's urn will be 5, 10 or 50 years from now.