7 Funeral Alternatives That Are Cheaper Than Burial

One of the inevitable facts of life is that one day, life will end for all of us. Yes. It's super depressing, and it's a thought that most people don't like to linger on for too long, but when was the last time you really thought about what type of funeral you want to have? Never? Okay. Maybe today is the day to think about it or, at least, think about thinking about it…

Traditional Funerals Are Becoming More Expensive

grieving couple
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In Western societies, disposing of a deceased body has come down to two main choices: burial and cremation. Even though cremation is an excellent, inexpensive option, more choices are available. Bankrate.com reports that the median cost for a traditional funeral (embalming, casket, tombstone, etc) was nearly $8,000 in the United States in 2021. The majority of the cost of a traditional funeral comes from the funeral home itself and you'll pay for every service they provide. Many services are also up-sold as well (did you know most caskets are marked up a ridiculous 900%??!). Imagine the savings if you can cut out that middleman altogether. There are ways to do this and save a bundle.

Also, your religion, if you have one, may have rules that dictate how a body must be treated after death. It's also understandable that people would need closure when a loved one dies, and, granted, not all of the proposed burial practices will provide that. Obviously, no specific means of burial is “wrong” and it's a personal decision, but if you (and your family) are open-minded and want to save some cash (and possibly become a piece of art) consider one of these alternatives to a traditional funeral.


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Cremation is probably the most popular and readily acceptable alternative method to a traditional funeral. Rather than having remains buried, a corpse is reduced to ash with extreme heat, then the ashes are placed into a receptacle and either buried, put on display, or scattered.

Cremations are far less expensive than a traditional funeral but unfortunately, you'll need the use of a crematorium, and any time a middleman gets involved in the process, the price starts to go up. Even at rock-bottom prices, FuneralTips.com tells us that most cremations are still going to cost between $1,000-1,600. Foregoing a memorial service and keeping the urn simple will save a few more bucks. If you choose to spread the ashes, keep it simple, because many expensive and trendy alternatives are popping up. Now, you can get jewelry made out of the ashes, become a “living reef”  by incorporating the remains into a coral reef, or you can even have ashes ejected into outer space by doing a “Space Burial.”

Although more costly than cremation (but still cheaper than a traditional burial) there are more environmentally friendly variations of cremation that essentially accomplish the same thing by using solutions of water, electrolysis, and other chemicals—methods like Aquamation or Resomation.

Green Burial

Green Burial ground
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Green burials aim to forgo all the luxuries in death, shun chemical preservatives, and advocate simply getting dropped into the ground with minimal environmental impact. Advocates of this type of funeral argue that traditional burials are a waste of resources with millions of tons of wood, steel, and cement, along with rivers of embalming fluid (which contains known carcinogens) being buried in the ground every year. It does seem that modern funeral services tend to prolong the process at an extreme cost to the individual's family and environment. Embalming, the concrete vault your casket lays in, and the casket itself are all designed to keep the creepy crawlies away and to keep the body snug. An embalmed body, depending on the quality of the embalming, the burial container, and burial location, can take 5-10 years to decompose.

With a green burial, decomposition begins almost immediately. The un-embalmed remains are placed directly in the ground either in a shroud or buried in a natural casket made out of biodegradable materials, such as wood, wicker, cardboard, or even mushrooms. Green burials aren't free, but are considerably cheaper than a traditional funeral. Also, not all cemeteries allow them, but they are gaining in popularity and more people have started using this alternative. In fact, Luke Perry – the Beverly Hills, 90210 and Riverdale actor – was buried in an eco-friendly mushroom suit following his unexpected death in 2019.

Home Burial

home burial
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Similar to a green burial, another low-cost alternative to a traditional funeral is the home burial. A home burial cuts out the middleman altogether and the family handles all the arrangements. “Death coaches” or “death midwives,” similar to a birthing doula (only on the opposite end) offer their services to families needing assistance navigating the process. Only six states have laws requiring that a funeral director must handle human remains and some cities have ordinances that prevent home burials, but in most places, it is perfectly legal. The cost of a home burial can be as low (or as high) as you want it to be because you are in charge of all the arrangements and can get as creative as you want. You can even pre-buy a coffin, and get more use out of it by having it double as something else such as a bookcase or a coffee table until the time comes when you need it.

Home burials are often more personal and intimate than a traditional funeral because the family is involved in every step. For many people, getting tossed in a simple pine box with no luxuries (other than a few mementos from life) and stuck in the ground among other loved ones simply feels right. 

Burial at Sea

burial at sea
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Burials at sea aren't just reserved for the Navy. Private citizens are free to get buried at sea as long as they stay within certain guidelines set by the Environmental Protection Agency. The biggies are non-cremated remains (meaning whole body burials) must be “buried” at least three nautical miles from land and in water at least 600 feet deep. All necessary measures must be taken to ensure the remains sink and stay at the bottom. (There do not appear to be any regulations stating how this is accomplished.) You also must also notify the EPA of burials conducted at sea, in writing, within 30 days.

The good news is that official funeral directors don't have to be involved with the process at all. Bear in mind though that depending upon where you sail from, there is not a guarantee that three nautical miles out to sea will result in water depths up to 600 feet. There are definitely a few hurdles to get over with a burial at sea. Transporting human remains isn't the easiest task, and you'll run into some added costs, especially if you don't live near a coastline or own a boat capable of reaching the required distance and depths, but under certain circumstances, burials at sea can be a cheap option. (Info referenced from EPA.)

Funeral Pyre

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If you are lucky enough to live in the town of Crestone, Colorado, or the adjacent area, you can now go out in a blaze of glory, just like our Viking ancestors. A funeral pyre is an open-air, natural cremation during which the deceased is placed on an altar, surrounded by logs, then set on fire. Generally considered taboo in the United States but readily acceptable in other parts of the world, currently only one organization in the United States offers funeral pyres: The Crestone End of Life Project.

They offer open-air cremations for a suggested donation of $500 – 800, but at this point only residents of the town and nearby areas can have the service performed due to the project’s limited capabilities. Like a traditional cremation, the family receives the ashes, but since it's impossible to separate the wood ash from the human ash, the family typically gets about five gallons of ash. With more people seeking alternatives to traditional funerals and with the rise in more natural and ecological means of disposing of a body, options like funeral pyres will liley become more commonplace in the modern world.

Donate Your Body to Science

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Donating your body to science for the purpose of research and teaching is probably the cheapest way to get rid of your corpse and relieve your heirs of the burden of a costly funeral. It's normally free and whatever scientific organization your body is going to will usually pay for all expenses related to the donation process. As with anything in life, there are also rules in death.

You can't donate your body if you succumbed to certain communicable illnesses, are obese, or had mental illnesses (for legal reasons). Your body also has to be mostly “intact” and as “normal” as possible, so people with disfiguring illnesses or those who have died in a horrific way are usually excluded. Also, there is generally no guarantee what type of research will be performed on your body. It could be used for dissection by medical students, for crash test experiments, decomposition experiments, or any number of pretty nasty things most don't want to think about. However, if you do choose this option, know that your body will be put to great use for the advancement of medicine and scientific research.

Become a Piece of Art

Body Worlds
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Plastination is an anatomical process used to preserve bodies (or body parts). Similar to mummification, plastination halts decomposition by removing water and fat from the body and replacing it with a polymer solution that penetrates the cells and essentially turns your body into plastic. The process was invented by anatomist Gunther Von Hagens, the creator of Body Worlds, a controversial art exhibit that puts humans preserved by the plastination process on public display.

Body Worlds is admittedly a little creepy at first. All specimens on display are people who willingly donated their bodies to Von Hagens' research institution with the intent of being plasticized and turned into artwork. The donor list is long, the institute is in Germany, and there is no guarantee your body will ever make it into the actual exhibit. If this is something you are interested in, you might want to start the process now and hope for the best. 

The Bottom Line

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At some point in history, people stopped dealing with their dead and started outsourcing the dying process to professionals, and slowly but surely dealing with the dead became a profitable business and people forgot their rights. Most people now take what a funeral director says as gospel, but the fact of the matter is that very few states have laws requiring that a funeral home must be involved, that corpses must be embalmed, be buried in a casket, or even buried at six feet deep.

Most people don't know that those expensive concrete vaults that caskets are placed in serve no other purpose than to keep the ground from caving in so the cemetery lawns can be freshly manicured and kept looking nice. No law requires concrete vaults, but most cemeteries require them. An un-embalmed corpse, as long as it is kept cool, can last for days and, depending on the state and as long as you are not within a certain distance from a water source and own the property, the dead can be buried almost anywhere. Like all things in life (but in this case, death), getting educated on the subject matter is the number one way to start saving money and when you know your rights, more options become available.

Have you discussed these options with your loved ones?