Which Is Better? The Cost of Cremation vs. Burial

Death is a difficult but natural part of life. As we process the complex emotions regarding our own passing and the passing of loved ones, we may shy away from discussing crucial decisions such as funeral services and final resting places. 

It may feel odd thinking about these details of your life. However, making these decisions now can help the remarkable people you leave behind. 

Having a clear plan and budget for your post-life services will be a huge blessing to loved ones who will be tasked with fulfilling your final wishes. While considering your options, you may want to weigh the costs of cremation and burial. 

What Options Do You Have?

One of the most important decisions regarding your passing is how to lay your remains to rest. You can discuss these options with your family, or you may choose to ponder them on your own.

Post-life services are not always complicated. They can be as ornate and expensive as an individual or a family desires. In the United States, there are two primary ways to manage a loved one’s remains. Those two methods are burial and cremation. 

Both options can mindfully and hygienically honor your memory, but each has unique benefits. Memorial quality, price, and community participation can all be taken into consideration when thinking through what option is best for you. 

Below, you’ll discover everything you need to know about cremation vs. burial.

What Is a Burial?

The first option is arguably the better-known post-life service, although it is not necessarily the most popular. Earthen burials in a cemetery have been part of almost every society throughout history. 

While some ancient societies preferred cremation for religious reasons, earthen burials have been one of the longest-standing traditions when it comes to post-life service. 

Although burial is often seen as the more traditional option of the two, many families choose cremation for financial reasons and convenience. 

What Is Involved in an Earthen Burial?

Burial can be the most expensive funeral option, and it is often more complicated than cremation. This is largely because of how remains are prepared for the typical funeral services that accompany an earthen burial. 

Embalming 

Soon after a loved one is deceased, their remains are taken to a funeral home and chemically treated with preservatives that delay and slow down the natural decaying process. This chemical treatment is called embalming and is an ancient practice that carries back thousands of years. 

This process represents one of the unique costs of choosing burial. Not only will the body be chemically prepared through embalming, but it will also be prepared to be put on display for the funeral services. An expert must apply cosmetics to the remains to ensure the body has a life-like image during services at an added cost. 

The Casket 

Another hidden cost of burial is choosing a casket or burial container. This is typically the most expensive item of a funeral’s overall cost. These specially designed cases are made to house the remains of the loved one who has passed. 

Even though there is a wide variety of different styles and price ranges, these caskets are typically one of the greatest in a funeral package. 

However, caskets can be custom-made if a family can afford the costs. Some families or individuals do choose to spend more money on a casket as a way to honor their loved one. 

Social Aspect

Many families choose a burial service because it provides an opportunity for their community to collectively celebrate the life of a remarkable person who has passed. These memorial services can include a wake, a formal service, and a graveside service. 

However, average funeral costs can be expensive. The median cost of a funeral is approximately $9,000, according to the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA). Beyond that, fees and unexpected burial costs such as transit permits, burial vaults or plots, and headstones or grave markers can become a financial burden. 

While some seniors have burial insurance policies, a life insurance policy with a death benefit, or final expense insurance to help with the coverage of these costs, the average costs of burial can be prohibitive for many.

Cremation

Cremation is one of the most popular options for individuals or families’ post-life services. The creation of cremated remains is equally as ancient as earthen burial and has been present in several societies worldwide. 

For some cultures, the practice of cremation is actually strictly forbidden, such as Judaism and Islam. In other cultures, it has actually played a religious role as the preferred method of laying remains to rest. Hinduism, Buddhism, and Sikhism believe cremation helps bring the soul into its next life.

There were certain times in history in which cremation served a very practical and life-saving purpose. One example is the Crusades, in which sieges would take place for weeks or months at a time. Cremation was the most hygienic way to manage mass casualties.

The average cost of a cremation can range from $1,000 to $8,000. Many still choose to hold a basic service for their loved ones after the cremation, which does add to its overall price. Still, the Cremation Association of North America estimates that cremation will become the most popular post-life service by 2023, thanks in part to its lower cost.

The Cremation Process

Modern-day cremation has come a long way since the days of King Richard the Lionheart. Cremation is a clean, quick process in which remains are placed in a specialized oven called a retort. These retorts are designed to reach incredible temperatures. The body itself is never exposed to naked flames during the cremation process. 

Because the human body is composed mostly of water, most of the mass of the human body evaporates or sublimates into gasses. This leaves four to six pounds of human ash. These ashes are mostly bone, which is further processed and ground into the fine, grey powder that is thought of as the result of cremation. 

Three Forms of Cremation

There are three forms of cremation to choose from: traditional cremation, memorial cremation, and direct cremation. 

Traditional Cremation 

Traditional cremation is the most expensive form of cremation available. This form of cremation is almost identical to the process of a traditional earthen burial in many ways. 

For instance, the body is still embalmed to allow for an open casket funeral service. However, instead of burying the remains directly after the service, they are transported to a crematorium to be transformed into ash. This allows the family to keep their loved ones ashes to memorialize as they wish, instead of burying the remains in the ground.

Memorial Cremation

A memorial cremation is similar to a traditional cremation because funeral services are still held. However, the remains are immediately cremated after death. 

In a memorial cremation, services typically will display the urn that holds the ashes of the person who passed along with some kind of memorial, commemorative display. This occurs in place of the open casket service.

This service will still include average funeral costs, but it will exclude both the casket costs as well as embalming. 

Direct Cremation  

This last method of cremation is what many people may think of when someone mentions cremation. Direct cremation is the most cost-effective method. However, it does come at the cost of certain commemorative and social traditions. 

During direct cremation, the body of the deceased is immediately cremated after death. The remains are then given to the family, typically in some kind of decorative urn. There are no funeral services, memorial services, or public gatherings. This is a simple, quick, and private option, and the only cost that is incurred is the cost of the cremation itself. 

Conclusion

Cremation can be less expensive than burial. However, there are options that can increase the price of cremation, making it nearly identical to burial costs. There is no wrong answer regarding burial and cremation. 

Ultimately, this is a highly personal decision, and the best choice is the one that honors and celebrates the wishes of your incredible loved ones.

Sources 

Consumer Guide to Funeral and Cemetery Purchases | California Department of Consumer Affairs 

How Is A Body Cremated? | Cremation Resource 

Earth Burial: A Tradition in Simplicity | fingerlakesfunerals.org

BROWSE BLOG & RESOURCES BY CATEGORY

Featured Articles

Stay Up To Date

Sign up to receive our latest blog posts, grief wellness resources, and featured articles.

Ready to Start the Process?

The $100 Eterneva Welcome Kit contains everything you need to start the journey to memorialize a remarkable life.

Join the grief wellness movement by email or text.