For hundreds of years, burial was the most popular end-of-life option in the U.S. and elsewhere. But recently, more Americans have opted for cremation, instead.
One reason is the cost. On average, cremation costs about a third what a burial does. This difference can be even greater depending on the type of cremation or burial you choose.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Average Cost of Cremation
- Cremation Cost by Type of Service
- Other Costs of Cremation
- Tips for Finding a Low-Cost or Free Cremation
Below, we’ll fill you in on the average cost of cremation in the United States, as well as several ways you can find more affordable cremation services.
Average Cost of Cremation
The average cost of direct cremation in the United States is between $600 and $1,000. This range is for just the cremation itself; it doesn’t include a memorial, an urn, or any other extras.
Cremation with a memorial service averages about $1,600, but it can also cost much more.
Cremation prices vary based on where you live. The cost of cremation is higher in more densely-populated areas, where there’s a higher demand. In some rural areas, cremation can cost as little as $450.
Cremation Cost by Type of Service
As mentioned above, the cost of cremation in the U.S. varies based on the type of service you choose. As with burial, you have several options for how you go about cremation, both beforehand and afterward.
Here are your primary options for cremation:
- Cremation with body donation: Donating your body to medical research is an act of generosity. It also comes with the benefit of free cremation. If you choose to donate your body to science, the facility will typically return your ashes to your family after about one month.
- Direct cremation: Direct cremation is the lowest-cost option (aside from body donation) available for body disposition. With direct cremation, the body is cremated immediately in the days following the death, without undergoing embalming. There’s usually no funeral service held beforehand.
- Pet cremation: Cremation isn’t just for our human loved ones. Pets can be cremated, too. Veterinary offices often recommend cremation when a beloved animal passes away. They’ll transport the pet to the crematory for you, and you can return to the veterinary office to retrieve the ashes after a few days. The average cost of pet cremation is between $50 and $150.
- Traditional cremation: A traditional cremation is the most expensive cremation option. It includes most or all of the services associated with a standard burial and funeral service. The body typically undergoes embalming so that it can be viewed at the funeral. The family usually rents a casket, as well. The cost of a traditional cremation funeral averages about $5,000.
Other Costs of Cremation
In addition to the base cost of a cremation, you might also pay for a decorative urn, cremation jewelry, a post-cremation memorial service, or other extras.
Here are some of the other costs associated with cremation:
- Urn: An urn can be simple or very elaborate, depending on your taste. The type of urn you choose will affect the cost. A decorative keepsake urn that will be kept inside can cost as little as $20 or as much as $300 or more. If you’re interring the ashes outdoors, you’ll need a more protective—and generally more expensive—urn.
- Interment: Many people simply keep cremated ashes at their home, or scatter them in a meaningful location. Others, though, choose to bury or permanently place the ashes in a cremation niche. To bury a loved one’s ashes in a standard burial plot, you’ll usually pay about $350-$500 at a public cemetery or $1,000-$2,000 at a private cemetery. You might also have to purchase a burial urn or vault, depending on the cemetery location.
- Memorial service: Cremation doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t have a memorial service. Many families who choose direct cremation for their loved ones hold a memorial service later on. A memorial service can be simple or elaborate, so the price varies. However, the average cost of a memorial service is about $900.
- Cremation jewelry: A unique way of preserving your loved one’s ashes is by turning them into, or placing them into, cremation jewelry. Cremation jewelers can turn ashes into durable crystals or create tiny, wearable urns. Turning your ashes into a crystal costs an average of $600-$800. Turning them into a real-life diamond can costs anywhere from $3,000 to $20,000. Cremation jewelry that acts as a wearable urn can cost between about $30 $500 or more, depending on the jewelry quality.
- Cremation fireworks: If you want to go out with a “bang,” you can hire a company to put your ashes into fireworks. You’ll want to make sure that lighting off a firework display is legal in your area. Some companies will even help you conduct the fireworks, lighting them off over the sea. The cost of cremation fireworks is between $1,000 and $5,000. The price depends on how elaborate you want the fireworks to be, and whether you want help lighting them off or not.
- Cremation art or glass: Instead of storing ashes in an urn in your home, you can keep ashes in a decorative piece of art or glasswork. Cremation glass can take the form of a sculpture, a pendant, or a decorative panel. Similarly, artists can mix cremains with colorful paints to create one-of-a-kind works of art. Cremation art and glassworks tend to cost between $100 and $300.
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Tips for Finding a Low-Cost or Free Cremation
One of the biggest reasons that cremation has become so popular in the United States is its relatively low cost. If cost is one of your main considerations, we have a few tips for finding low-cost or free cremation services.
Choose direct cremation
As mentioned, direct cremation is the lowest-cost option when it comes to final disposition. With direct cremation, you don’t rent a casket, and you don’t pay for body preservation. Additionally, there’s no time to hold a traditional funeral ahead of the cremation.
If you so choose, you can always hold a memorial at a later date, which can help you spread out the total cost over a period of weeks or even months.
If you want to avoid paying for cremation at all, you might want to consider donating your body to medical science.
Companies that accept body donations cremate the remains and return them to the family after a period of weeks. Not only could you help one or more people who are suffering from illness, but you can save your family thousands of dollars.
Of course, make sure you’re confident that this is the route you want before you sign your body over to medical science.
Work with a crematory
When you choose cremation, you have two options: you can work through a funeral home, or you can work directly with a crematory. Working with the crematory directly will almost always be the least expensive option.
When you work with a funeral home, you could pay extra for body transportation, handling, and other added costs. When you communicate with the crematory without a middle man, you can usually reduce those extra fees.
Compare prices (and quality)
You might be surprised by how much crematory prices vary. Two crematories on the same street might have two very different prices for the exact same service.
When you’re choosing a cremation service provider, make sure to vet the company based on price and on reputation.
If a crematory is providing a much lower price, it might be a good idea to ask how they’re able to do that. They might simply offer a lower price to stay competitive in the market. However, you also want to make sure their business practices are up to par.
Shopping for Cremation
Shopping for cremation services for yourself or a loved one isn’t easy, but you can make your cremation personal in many ways.
By choosing extras like cremation jewelry, or even elaborate options like fireworks, you can make a cremation ceremony more memorable. On the other hand, you can make a cremation as simple and straightforward as you’d like, and save thousands of dollars in the process.
Cremation is highly customizable, which—in addition to its low cost—is one of the reasons it’s now more popular than burial in the United States.
- Katz, Brigit. “Cremation Rates Reach All-Time High in the U.S.” 11 August 2017. Smithsonian. www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/cremation-rates-reach-all-time-high-us-180964478/
- Kirchheimer, Sid. “Donating Your Body to Science.” AARP. 28 March 2012. www.aarp.org/money/budgeting-saving/info-03-2012/donating-your-body-to-science.html
- “Funeral Costs and Pricing Checklist.” FTC. July 2012 www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0301-funeral-costs-and-pricing-checklist