Dear Savvy Senior: How much does cremation cost, and how can I find a good deal in my area? I would like to get a simple, basic cremation that doesn’t cost me, or my family, a lot of money. — Frugal Senior
Dear Frugal: Cremation costs can vary widely. Depending on your location, the provider and the services you request, cremation can range anywhere from $500 to $7,500 or more. But that’s a lot cheaper than a full-service funeral and cemetery burial that averages nearly $11,000 today. Here are some tips to help you get a good deal.
Because prices can vary sharply by provider, the best way to get a good price on a simple “no frills” cremation is to call several funeral homes in your area (most funeral homes provide cremation services) and compare prices.
When you call, ask them specifically how much they charge for a “direct cremation,” which is the basic option and the least expensive. With direct cremation there’s no embalming, formal viewing or funeral. It only includes the essentials: picking up the body, completing the required paperwork, the cremation itself and providing ashes to the family.
If your family wants to have a memorial service, they can have it at home or your place of worship after the cremation, in the presence of your remains.
If you want additional services beyond what a direct cremation offers, ask the funeral home for an itemized price list that covers the other service costs, so you know exactly what you’re getting. All providers are required by law to provide this.
To locate nearby funeral homes, look in your local yellow pages or Google “cremation” or “funeral” followed by your city and state. You can also get good information online at Parting.com, which lets you compare prices from funeral providers in your area based on what you want.
Or, if you need more help, contact your nearby funeral consumer alliance program (see funerals.org/local-fca or call 802-865-8300 for contact information). These are volunteer groups located in most regions around the country that offer a wide range of information and prices on local funeral and cremation providers.
The urn is an item you need to be aware of that can drive up cremation costs. Funeral home urns usually cost around $100 to $300, but you aren’t required to get one.
Most funeral homes initially place ashes in a plastic bag that is inserted into a thick cardboard box. The box is all you need if you intend to have your ashes scattered. But if you want something to display, you can probably find a nice urn or comparable container online. Walmart.com and Amazon.com for example, sell urns for under $50. Or, you might want to use an old cookie jar or container you have around the house instead of a traditional urn.
Another option you might want to consider that provides free cremation is to donate your body to a university medical facility. After using your body for research, they will cremate your remains for free (some programs might charge a small fee to transport your body to their facility) and either bury or scatter your ashes in a local cemetery or return them to your family, usually within a year or two.
To find a medical school near you that accepts body donations, the University of Florida maintains a directory at anatbd.acb.med.ufl.edu/usprograms.
Jim Miller is a contributor to NBC-TV’s “Today” program and author of “The Savvy Senior.” Send your questions to Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070; or visit savvysenior.org.