Cremation vs Burial: Pros and Cons [No-BS Guide]

Cremation versus burial? I have a tough time making this decision myself. While cremation is far more affordable, environmentally-conscious, and less taxing on grieving family members, I can’t deny that I have a gut preference for being buried and allowing my loved ones to have a dedicated, tangible location to remember me.

In most cases, the “cremation or burial?” decision is difficult and emotional, and one that can trigger significant family tension.

So we created this guide to help you better understand each option and pinpoint exactly why you prefer one over the other.

We’ll end by discussing why this decision is a luxury that most Americans do not have, and what they can do about it.

Let’s dive in.

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A Funeral And Burial: The All-American Option

Knowing the ins and outs of each process is critical for the family member making the cremation vs. burial decision.

So we’ll begin by describing precisely what a “traditional burial” entails.

The Four Parts Of A Traditional Burial

The first part is the pre-planning portion, which will look similar for both burial and cremation. This process usually begins with choosing a funeral home and meeting with its funeral director to discuss final arrangements (cremation vs. burial) options.

If you choose a traditional funeral service, you will also have to discuss your casket, memorial service, burial vault, and more options. You will also have to arrange things like transport and embalming. Finally, you will need to consider these in light of whether a traditional funeral is affordable for you and potentially look beyond the funeral home for ways to save money (e.g., opting for casket rental or purchasing items online).

Part two involves preparing the body, including embalming and choosing how to dress and adorn your loved one for their final rest — for example, dressing them in clothing that reflects their personality and potentially choosing mementos to place within their casket.

Once done, the body is placed in a casket (also known as a coffin) and ready to be viewed.

The memorial service (also known as the “wake” or the “viewing”) is the third part. Here, friends and family gather to pay their respects to the deceased and support each other in their grief.

The service is typically held at a church or funeral home. In either case, it can be a religious or non-religious affair. The image below shows you what this can look like for Catholics, whose service is typically a funeral mass held at the Catholic Church they attend.

Religious Funeral Service (Catholic Funeral Mass)

The service will either be “open casket” or “closed casket,” reflecting whether mourners can see the body during the service. This is a deeply personal decision and can also depend on the condition of the body.

After the funeral service, pallbearers carry the casket to the hearse, transporting the body to the cemetery. Mourners traditionally follow behind the hearse, on foot or by car, holding flowers or other mementos.

Family mourning in cemetery during burial

The final step is the burial itself, where family members gather to watch their loved one be laid to rest.  At the gravesite, there is often another short service, during which a priest (or non-religious ceremonial leader) leads the group in prayer and bidding farewell to the deceased. In the end, your loved one is lowered into the ground and will have arrived at their final resting place.

Traditional Burial Pros & Cons

Having understood what the traditional burial and funeral service entails, let’s now go through what leads people to choose or decide against burial, starting with the pros:

Pros of Traditional Burial

Burial Cons

Would you ever sneak out to avoid paying a dinner bill?

So why would you leave your family with a $10,000 final expense bill?

The Cremation Process

Cremation is the new kid on the block, and the details of the cremation process are still a mystery to many people.

Cremation is the process of reducing a dead body to small bone fragments (that resemble ash) by exposing it to flames and intense heat. The word comes from the Latin “cremare,” meaning “to burn until only ashes remain.”

Cremation symbolizes many things, such as reincarnation, purification from sin, freedom from worldly desires, and in Eastern religions (namely, Hinduism and Buddhism), reaching Nirvana.

Cremation also ensures that one’s remains do not pollute the Earth after they have passed.

Cremation urn and white roses

What Is Direct Cremation?

Most cremations are what the funeral industry calls “direct cremation.”

A direct cremation is the most basic cremation service offered, with a correspondingly low price tag. It does not involve transporting the body in a hearse or limousine and uses a very simple coffin. (By the way, make sure your local funeral home offers cremation services, as some funeral homes do not.)

With this manner of cremation, there is no ceremony. It takes place without the presence of extended family and friends. Therefore, choosing cremation may make it more difficult for extended family and friends to receive the closure they typically receive from a group service.

Your Options For Handling Cremated Remains

There are a variety of ways that people handle their family member’s ashes. Here are four of the most common:

  1. Storing the ashes.  Storing the ashes in a cremation urn is the most common choice. It allows you to keep your loved one somewhere personally meaningful (often within the home) instead of a communal cemetery.
  2. Scattering the ashes.  This option is the preferred method in India, where cremation originated.
  3. Burying the ashes.  Catholics who are cremated often have their cremated remains buried, as the Catholic Church recommends.
  4. Cremation jewelry. While this will seem revolting to some, a recent trend has been to store the ashes within jewelry that can be worn.

Cremation Pros & Cons

Now let’s go through the pros and cons of cremation. First, the pros:

Cremation Pros

Cons of Cremation

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the key pros of cremation?

The key pros of cremation include: (1) the low price tag (a simple direct cremation can cost only $1,500) and (2) the ability to keep your loved one’s ashes in your home so that they can offer a constant presence (and can travel with you when you move).

What are the key pros of burial?

The key pros of burial include: (1) being the traditional American method for final arrangements, the familiarity of it can bring comfort to friends and family; and, (2) burial provides a final resting place for your loved one, potentially in a family plot next to fellow loved ones, and gives surviving family and friends a place to visit and commemorate the individual.

Conclusion & Key Takeaways

Cremation or a more traditional funeral for your loved one’s final arrangements?  It’s rarely an easy decision.

Depending on your religious and personal beliefs, the two options can have vastly different appeals and emotional consequences for you and your family.

This can be especially hard on families who strongly prefer a traditional burial but cannot afford the high burial costs we see in 2021.

Sadly, they then have to weigh their desired method for honoring the deceased against the financial responsibility of that choice.

Buying Burial Insurance Online Is Easy

Two Keys To Protecting Your Family And Your Legacy

Beyond the choice at hand here, two things seem clear. First, pre-planning your funeral or cremation can be one of the kindest things you do for your family while they are in the midst of one of the most challenging times in their lives (mourning your loss).

At a minimum, this should include your wish to be cremated versus buried and a plan for financing your chosen arrangement.

Second, given the emotional consequences of this choice on your family and friends, if at all possible, money should not decide how you are remembered.

Check out our guide to burial insurance to understand how you can save your family significant heartache down the road.

If you have any additional questions, don’t hesitate to leave a comment or send us an email at [email protected]. We’ll be sure to get back to you within 24 hours.

Warms Regards,
The GetSure Team