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Cremation vs Burial: Choosing What’s Right For You


One of the most important, and sometimes one of the hardest, decisions when making end of life arrangements is choosing between burial and cremation. Not only is this a very personal decision, but it also has significant implications on the amount of time you have to plan, the total cost, and the type of memorial you can have. Burial vs cremation is a difficult choice, but by considering your options early you can ensure that your final wishes are understood and fulfilled.

What is the difference between burial and cremation?

Talking about end of life care can be confusing and overwhelming. Before choosing an option, make sure you understand the basic differences between burial and cremation.

  • burial is when the body is buried in a casket, usually in a cemetery or mausoleum. Traditional burials are all-inclusive, with a memorial service coordinated by the funeral home taking place before the burial. Burials tend to be more traditional and follow a clear script and timeline.
  • Cremation is the process of burning the body, producing ashes. Cremation is typically much more affordable than burial, though the price varies depending on your funeral provider and the services offered. To learn more about what’s included in a cremation and ways to save, click here.

Direct cremation is a more affordable cremation option, where the cremation takes place in the days immediately following the passing, and without a viewing or funeral service beforehand. While traditional funeral homes lump in memorial services, direct cremation only includes the essentials, so families can plan a memorial or celebration of life on their own time and budget. Click here to read more.


What is the price difference between burial and cremation?

Burial and cremation are typically drastically different prices. The average burial cost in the United States is over $9,000 once all services are considered, according to the National Funeral Directors Association. With a burial, you will need to pay for rushed transport, embalming or body preparation, a casket, any fees associated with the overhead of the funeral home, and the burial plot or tomb for the final resting place. Many cemeteries will require you to purchase a burial vault, which can cost upwards of $1,000. Burial vaults protect the casket from collapse, preserving the cemetery’s lawn and rounds. In addition to these unforeseen costs that are customary in the funeral industry, traditional funeral homes are known to tack on extra costs, so the price you first hear my increase over time.

Cremation is more affordable than burial, though costs vary depending on your provider and the services requested. If your cremation includes a ceremony with the body present, the average cost is about $6,000. If you opt for a direct cremation, the price drops dramatically, with the average cost being just over $2,000. Some funeral providers offer packages as low as $650. If price is an important consideration for you, direct cremation may be your best option. 

How much time do I have to plan a burial or cremation?

One of the most important considerations when choosing burial or cremation is the amount of time you have to plan for the service.

Burials happen very quickly, and you will need to make many decisions in a short amount of time. There is usually about a week between the passing and when the burial takes place. Most traditional funeral homes require that the memorial services take place before the body is laid to rest, which means you and your family will have little time to plan and prepare for your final goodbyes. If you have family or friends who need to travel to attend services, the time-pressure of burials can become stressful.

With cremation, the timeline is usually much more relaxed, as you can plan the memorial for a later date. Services can take place any time before or after the body is cremated. This flexible timeline means you can memorialize the person who has passed in a way that’s right for your family. With direct cremation especially, the timeline for the memorial service is entirely up to you, as the funeral home will not be coordinating any time-sensitive services at an additional cost to you.

Are there restrictions on the type of memorial I can plan?

When choosing between burial and cremation, you should consider how involved and personal you would like the services to be.

Traditional funeral homes usually have a strict series of events that take place before burial. Many families find traditional funeral rites comforting and familiar, as they may have cultural or religious significance. Others may feel traditional services are too regimented or impersonal. With traditional burials, families don’t have to spend extra time or energy organizing a service while grieving, but they sacrifice having a personal service.

Cremation services can be entirely do-it-yourself, especially if you choose direct cremation. The service can be as traditional or unique as you’d like, and you can personalize the event and set your own budget. This option is increasing in popularity for American families, who opt to celebrate the lives of their loved ones in a way that works best for them and considers their schedule, budget, and personal preferences. The service can look exactly like a traditional funeral, or it can be as personal as a party in one’s home or favorite restaurant.

What are my options for my loved one’s final resting place?

If you choose a burial, the final resting place is limited to legal burial sites, including cemeteries or mausoleums. With cremation, you have countless options. You can still choose to bury the ashes in your local cemetery, but you are not restricted to doing so. If you do choose to have the ashes rest in a cemetery, you can have them placed in a columbarium, which is a shared mausoleum. Ashes can also be buried in an urn garden or in a traditional plot. Some cemeteries allow for multiple ashes to be buried in a single plot, which saves families money and allows them to lay their loved ones to rest together.

In addition to burying ashes, there are many other options you can consider. Ashes can be scattered at sea, in national parks, or in a place that is significant to your family. You can keep the ashes with you in a cremation urn or distribute the ashes between family members. Ashes can also be made into jewelry, incorporated into soil to grow a tree, molded into man-made coral reefs, and more.

What are the attitudes toward cremation vs burial?

The number of families choosing cremation over burial has nearly doubled in the past 15 years. In 2017, the national cremation rate was 51.6%, according to the Cremation Association of North America.

While many people previously opted for burials to comply with Western religious traditions, religious authorities have loosened their stance on cremation, making it more popular. When the church publicly lifted its prohibition on cremation in 1963, many other Christian denominations followed suit and became more inclusive of alternative final disposition options. While Jewish law prohibits cremation, both Conservative and Reform movements in Judaism allow cremation. Most rabbis will still officiate traditional Jewish ceremonies regardless of what is done with the physical body after death. Jewish law does not prohibit the burial of ashes, and families can still bury the ashes of their loved ones in most Jewish cemeteries.

As families grow and children move away, centrally located burial plots have become less popular, increasing cremation rates across the country. In states like California, transplants have driven the cremation rate over 70%.

The environmental impact of burial has also shifted public opinions toward cremation. Burials have been criticized for taking up too much space. Traditional burials use burial vaults that prevent the human body from decomposing, heightening the environmental impact. Though families can choose a green burial and forego a burial vault, the market is niche, and costs are still higher than cremation.

The main factor in cremation preference is cost. Cremation is cheaper than burial. Most families drastically underestimate the cost of traditional funerals and are caught off guard when they need to make end of life arrangements. In a time of grief, families often overpay for services. Cremation offers financial relief to families looking to save.

What should I do next?

How you think through end of life preparations is highly personal, and the decision will be different for everyone. Take comfort in knowing that you can’t go wrong, and there are resources available to you to help you make this decision. Fortunately, there are many different options available for celebrating the life of your loved one. Working with a traditional funeral home may be more convenient but will come at a higher cost – and you will have less of a say in the services. Direct cremation gives you the most flexibility, enables you to plan a highly personalized ceremony on your own terms, and is the most cost effective.

Tulip’s direct cremation service covers every part of the cremation process between the medical certifier signing the death certificate to the receipt of your loved one’s ashes back home, wherever home is for you. Call our Family Care Team 24 hours a day at (844) 942-4909 or arrange online.

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