Choosing between a cremation and burial can be a daunting task. Cost, timing and the way you want to be remembered are all key factors in deciding whether cremation or burial if best for you. Understanding your options early will give you peace of mind that that your final wishes are understood and fulfilled.
What is a burial?
A 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.
What is a cremation?
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.
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.
Cremation vs Burial - The Cost
Compared to cremations, burials can be significantly more expensive, mainly due to the cost of purchasing the burial plot (known as the “right of interment”), which ranges between $1,500 – $52,000 in Australia, and the cost of a headstone or monument.
An average total burial cost of $19,000 is significant when you consider that when people have their first conversation with a funeral director the “cost” of a burial is often estimated in the $6,000 – $8,000 range. For more information on payment options, see our Guide to Funeral Loans.
The unfortunate fact is that at a cost of $19,000, a burial is stretch for many Australian families. It also explains why there has been a rapidly growing trend towards cremation, which can work out to be significantly more cost-effective. For more information, see our article on the average cost of a cremation in Australia. A green funeral can also be a more cost-effective option for families who are set on a burial.
If you don’t have $19,000, can you arrange a cheaper funeral? Absolutely. The prices outlined in this post are simply the average. There are more competitive prices out there. The best place to start would be right here on Gathered Here.
As you you can see, selecting a burial over a cremation is just the first step in the process and there are a number of important considerations that must follow. Once you have a broad idea of the burial you would like to arrange, it’s the right time to think about getting in touch with a funeral director. When you’re ready, Gathered Here can help you search and compare hundreds of local funeral directors.
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.
Cremation vs Burial - The Planning Process
Planning can be a very stressful part of the funeral process. For many families, the time constraints placed on planning it is one of the key drivers of whether to cremate or bury their loved one.
For burials, many funeral homes insist on the ceremony and memorial be completed within a week of the passing.
For those with family and friends that may be attending from out of town, the time-pressure can be incredibly stressful. The short window in which to organise can also mean decisions are rushed.
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.
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.
Cremation vs Burial - Memorial Options
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 jewellery, incorporated into soil to grow a tree, moulded into man-made coral reefs, and more.
Cremation vs Burial - Summary
2 in 3 Australians (66%) prefer cremation over burial when planning their own funeral. In comparison, just 1 in 5 (20%) would choose burial with 14% having no preference either way (Source: MCCRINDLE).
Historically, many Australians previously opted for burials to comply with Western religious traditions, religious authorities have loosened their stance on cremation, making it more popular.
The environmental impact of burial has also shifted public opinions toward cremation. Burials have been criticised 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.
Your decision is unique and personal. Weighing up the timing, cost and how you want to be remembered are just a few important factors to think through. There are many resources available to you to help make the right decision. Ultimately, direct cremation gives you more flexibility, is typically most cost effective, and allows for incredibly personalised memorials at a time that makes sense. Working with a traditional funeral home does provide a convenient service, but likely at a higher cost and a more generic service.