Cremated Remains: 7 Insanely Cool Things You Can Do With Them

Cremated remains, which are commonly mistaken as "ashes," are often the only physical remains of a person after their cremation.  People are all too familiar with the idea of a porcelain urn  sitting on the mantle above the fireplace, but some might want to celebrate the life of "Grandma" differently.

Since every life is unique, why does every ending have to be the same?  The following companies may seem odd, but they all help to shape the view of death and mourning. Lives should be celebrated, and anything that helps do that should be taken seriously. So here are 7 of the most creative things you can do with cremated remains.

1. Swim With the Fishes

Eternal Reefs: For $2,995 you can have your remains added to a "reef ball" and help do your part in restoring the ocean habitat.  The cremated remains are mixed into concrete to create a "Pearl".  That pearl is then added to a "Reef Ball" and used to start an ocean habitat.

2. Baby You're a Firework

angels flight fireworks

Angels Flight: For $4,250 your family and loved ones can watch as the cremated remains light up the night sky with custom colors, brilliance, and patterns specifically chosen for the deceased.

3. Going Out with a Bang

 holy smoke

Holy Smoke: For $850, one pound of cremated remains will be loaded into 250 shotgun shells, ready for use.  The same amount could be used for 100 rifle rounds or 250 pistol rounds.

4. Shine Bright Like a Diamond

life gem

LifeGem: For nearly $20,000, you can use the carbon from cremated remains or even a lock of hair and turn it into a 1-carat diamond.  LifeGem offers a multitude of colors, cuts, and sizes so you can bring memorial jewelry to a whole another level.

5. You Spin Me Right Round Baby, Right Round

and vinyly

And Vinyly: For a little over $4,200, cremated remains can be pressed into a vinyl record with music, a voice recording, or even just silence so that your loved ones can hear your “pops & crackles”.

6. Up, Up, and Away!

Mesoloft: $2,800.  Mesoloft will place your cremated remains into a weather balloon, take it up to 75,000 feet and release them into the atmosphere.  Taking volcanic ashes as a model, they say the remains can travel the earth before eventually settling back down.

7. Ground Control to Major Tom

Celestis: Starting at $1,250 (and going as high as $12,500) you can have cremated remains sent into space.  Celestis Memorial Spaceflights has options ranging from deep space travel to being placed on the surface of the moon.  Flights seem to only occur once ever year so it’s definitely not the quickest disposition option.

How Much Does A Cremation Cost? Depends Who You Call

How much do you think it costs to cremate a dead body? It’s a question you probably don’t think about until tragedy strikes and you’re planning the funeral of a loved one.

One of the last things anyone wants to do when they've lost a loved one is make a complicated financial decision. Families want to spend that time celebrating a life, not hunting for the best rate on the memorial service. If a funeral home quotes you a price for a cremation, you’ll probably just assume you’re being treated fairly and accept the price.

So it may come as a surprise that the price of basic services like cremation can vary wildly from home to home. Today the average cost of a standalone cremation -- no additional services -- is $2,057. And yet, in any given city, some funeral homes will charge you two to three times as much for a cremation. Same service, drastically different price.

Even more troubling, in the Internet age funeral parlors tend to make pricing hard to find. In fact, the Federal Trade Commission allows funeral homes to keep their rates hidden until someone actually writes or calls a funeral home representative -- leaning on regulations last updated in 1994 -- rather than pushing funeral homes to let the customer compare online. In a survey by the nonprofit Funeral Consumers Alliance, only 25 percent of funeral homes fully disclosed prices on their websites, while 16 percent failed to disclose prices after an email and a phone call.

Tough access to comparison shopping seems to affect pricing. At Parting, we’ve painstakingly built a database of how much funeral homes charge for services so that no one ever gets ripped off in their time of need. Let’s walk through the data.

If recent trends continue, cremations will account for over half of all funerals by 2018, up from about a quarter in 1998.

Cremation Rates in America

People have been buried in coffins for centuries, so why the rise in cremations?

The Cremation Association took a look at this question. The group found a correlation between high cremation rates in states with a high proportion of people unaffiliated with organized religions, and the number of unaffiliated individuals is on the rise. The group also attributes the growing cremation rate to the simple fact that it’s cheaper than the coffin, which alone can cost thousands of dollars. And having the ashes portable in an urn (which typically cost in the hundreds of dollars) allows families more creative memorial ceremonies, like at a riverside or on a mountain top, where they don’t pay for a burial plot.

The cremation process itself is relatively straightforward. The body is placed in a large chamber and using mid-thousand-degree heat from oil, gas or propane, the body is incinerated. The process may have minor differences, depending the funeral home, but the end product is the same: ashes, in an urn or container.

Though families get essentially the same product regardless of where the body is cremated, there is surprising variation in cremation costs. Analyzing our data, we found that while there are many locations at which direct cremation, the most basic cremation service, costs less $1,000, there are are also a large number of funeral homes which offer the service for more than $4,000. There are even those that charge over $9,000 for the service.

Direct Cremation Price Range

Comparing direct cremation costs is not always apples to apples. For instance, some funeral homes have their own crematorium while others use a third party, which can mean an extra fee. Still, these fees don’t explain why direct cremation at some facilities costs five times more than others.

John Jung of California Mortuary in Los Angeles points out that cremations are an administratively intensive process. They have to get approval from a doctor and, depending on the state, the various layers of government.

But when we analyzed cremation costs by city, we also found large variations in price within the same location. The following charts shows the range in prices for the forty largest U.S. cities in order of the largest range in price.

cremation prices in america

 

The disparity in some cities is glaring. New York tops the list with the highest parlor charging over 18 times the lowest. In Washington DC, the most expensive direct cremation is nearly $7,000 dollars more than the least expensive.

How could there be such a wide range of prices?

Jung believes that any parlor on the very high end of pricing probably doesn’t see the service as essential to their business. They keep cremations on the price list in case someone really wants it and then they turn a hefty profit for the effort. But it’s not core to their revenue.

And the lower range cremation prices are likely to attract additional business. They are loss leaders. “If it’s under $1000, they’re probably losing money. You really don’t make much profit on the direct cremation alone,” Jung says. “They’re just trying to get you into the door.”

The average price for a standalone cremation nation-wide is $2,057 but our data shows a full memorial service costs, on average, $3,650. These bundled services add additional products like the cremation casket, which typically go for around a thousand dollars or just removing and transferring the remains (typically a few hundred), not to mention flowers, embalming services and time spent viewing the body.

Getting a family in the door allows a funeral director to sell these additional services. This can create an awkward situation: It’s hard to say no to an upsell for someone’s last goodbye. Good funeral homes try to keep that balance of selling their own services while respecting the family in a time of need.

“It’s really a service industry,” Jung says of funeral homes. “You have a job to do but at the same time you have to direct them in a gentle manner.”

Not every state is equally shocking in the divergence of cremation prices. California offers some hope that transparency would alleviate such glaring disparities. The state requires that if a funeral parlor has a website, it must post prices.

“California funeral law protects the family a lot,” says Jung, whose family has run their parlor in the Los Angeles area for 17 years. “It’s pretty strict.”

cremation prices by state

Unfortunately the “death-care” industry, as Bloomberg noted in a 2013 cover story is big business and often ends up preying on grieving families. Publically traded funeral home companies like Service Corporation International (SCI), which run thousands of funeral homes across the country, are worth over $5 billion and — unlike locally-owned homes integrated with a community — answer to Wall Street traders, leading to pressure to upsell consumers.

Cremations are taking the place of casket burials and future generations will expect their prices online for a straightforward albeit serious service. More transparency will go a long way and having cremation costs online puts power into the consumer’s hands when they need it most.  

No one wants to shop around for the best prices for a cremation when dealing with a tragic death, and unfortunately some funeral homes take advantage of this fact.

How Much Does the Average Funeral Cost?

This article provides average funeral cost data for American funerals.

The average cost for an American funeral, like other goods and services, has been steadily increasing over the last two decades.  Anyone that has seen a late-night television commercial for funeral insurance knows the typical American funeral costs more than $6,000 – but is this an accurate estimate?  The short answer is “no.”

Unfortunately, this $6,000 estimate is several years old and doesn’t take into consideration the additional expenses associated with burial in a cemetery and the purchase of a headstone.  Once all funeral-related costs are factored in, the typical traditional funeral service will cost the average family closer to $8,000 - $10,000.  But before we discuss specific funeral costs, we need to spend a few minutes discussing how the funeral industry works.  This will help us understand where our money goes when planning a funeral.

Average Funeral Costs: How the Funeral Industry Works

Most people planning a funeral use the services of a funeral home.  The funeral director is either the owner of a funeral home or, more commonly, an employee of a large corporate-owned chain of funeral homes.  In most cases the funeral director’s compensation is tied to the profits he generates for the funeral home or the sales commissions he earns by selling related goods and services.

While the funeral director will serve as the family’s main service provider when arranging a funeral service, other businesses are involved as well.  In addition to the funeral home, most families will need to use the services of a cemetery and a headstone dealer.  Often times, the funeral director will coordinate the purchase of goods and services between the family and the cemetery and headstone dealer.  While this is certainly convenient for the family, you need to remember that you are really buying things from three separate business entities: the funeral home, the cemetery, and the headstone dealer.

The funeral director’s main responsibility is generating profits for the funeral home.  Unfortunately, this often means the funeral director’s main objective is to increase the amount of money you spend at the funeral home, leaving cemetery and headstone costs as a separate expense for the family.  This is why the typical funeral service is publicized as costing $6,000 – because the family often pays about $6,000 to the funeral director.  However, the family still has to pay the cemetery for the purchase of a grave spot and the dealer for the price of a headstone.  It’s these additional goods and services that add another $2,000 to $4,000 to the price of a funeral.  Unfortunately, many families do not find this out until after they have signed a contract for the funeral services with the funeral director.

Average Funeral Costs: Three Key Components

Because the typical funeral home charges $6,000 for their services, but the average family often spends closer to $10,000 when all is said and done, it makes sense to break funeral costs into their three main components: what’s paid to the funeral home, what’s paid to the cemetery, and what’s paid to purchase a headstone or grave marker.

First, the funeral home

It’s no surprise that most families call a funeral home when someone they love dies.  The funeral home dispatches a funeral director to pick up the body and bring it back to the funeral home.  The funeral director then schedules a meeting with surviving family members to help them arrange the funeral service.

The family spends approximately $6,000 on goods and services purchased from the funeral home.  Here is a price breakdown of some of those typical costs:

    • casket - $2,300
    • funeral director’s basic services fee - $1,500
    • embalming and body preparation - $600
    • funeral ceremony and viewing - $1,000
    • miscellaneous (hearse, death certificates, obituary, etc.) - $600
Next comes the cemetery

The average traditional funeral service is followed by body burial in a cemetery.  While most cemeteries used to be owned by non-profit organizations, nowadays many are owned by the same for-profit corporations that own the funeral homes.  The average family will spend approximately $2,000 for goods and services at the cemetery.  Here is a price breakdown of the typical costs:

    • grave space - $1,000
    • cost to dig the grave ( sometimes called the open/close fee) - $1,000

Many families are surprised to learn that the price they pay for the grave site does not include the cost to dig the hole for burial, but this is how it works.

Don’t forget about the headstone or grave marker

While the typical family has spent close to $8,000 by now, there are still more costs involved in completing the funeral transaction.  If the body is buried in a cemetery you will also need to purchase a headstone or grave marker.  The type of stone you are required to buy depends on the section of the cemetery in which the body is buried.  A headstone is typically a two-piece granite rock that sits on top of the grave site.  It’s typically two feet high.  A grave marker is typically a flat granite or bronze plaque that lies flat on the ground on top of grave site.  Here is a rough approximation as to what you can expect to spend on a headstone:

    • Headstone - $2,000
    • Grave Marker - $1,000

Again, the funeral home may coordinate the purchase of the cemetery space and headstone on behalf of the family – it just depends on the funeral home.  While this can be a great convenience to the family, the price can be higher because the cemetery or headstone dealer will have to pay an additional sales commission to the funeral home.

Average Funeral Costs: Can they be lowered? – YES!

It is fair to say that many families are truly surprised when they add up all the costs associated with a funeral.  Fortunately, proper funeral planning can yield considerable savings.  I have spent nearly ten years helping families plan more affordable funeral arrangements, and I have found that with a little planning and knowledge, the typical family can realistically reduce their out-of-pocket funeral expenses by $3,000 to $5,000.

If you would like to save money the next time you need to make funeral arrangements, you can search and compare local funeral home pricing at Parting.com.

Save Money on Funeral Costs by Making Arrangements at a Low-Priced Funeral Home and Cemetery

Many people don’t realize that prices can vary greatly between funeral homes.   Over just the last three years many family-run funeral homes (and local cemeteries) have been taken-over by big global corporations.  These big corporate funeral homes often keep the original owner’s family name on the door so they don't scare away their old customers.  Unfortunately, these corporations often raise prices by 30% to 50%.

Don't just the pick the same old funeral home

This is why you should NOT automatically use the same funeral home you have used in the past UNTIL you check to see if they have SINCE become part of one of the big funeral corporations – as so many have!

Choosing a reasonably-priced local funeral home instead of one of the many corporate funeral homes can substantially reduce your out-of-pocket funeral expenses. …often reducing your overall funeral bill by $2,000 – to $4,000 for the same exact items.

This same principle applies to cemeteries.  These funeral corporations have also been buying up many of the older, better established cemeteries across the country.  They realize that if you already have a family history with a particular cemetery you are more likely to pay their larger fees just to be buried next to a deceased relative.

Here's what you should do

So what can you do about all this?  Well, the first thing you should do is call a few funeral homes in your area and ask them if they are now owned by one of the big corporations.  If they're still a family-run business they'll be proud to tell you so.

If you don't feel comfortable calling and asking funeral homes about this, check out section 3 of the Funeral $aver’s Kit to learn a neat little trick that lets you to use your computer to find out each and every corporate funeral home in your area.  You can do it right from the comfort of you home in less than 5 minutes and it's completely free.

After eliminating the really expensive funeral homes, you'll want to find out which funeral homes offer the most reasonable prices.  Again, you can do this simply by calling funeral homes in your area and requesting their price information.

Although funeral homes are NOT required to send you price information when you ask for it over the phone, some are still willing to do this.

 If you would like to save money the next time you need to make funeral arrangements, you can search and compare local funeral home pricing at Parting.com.

Lower Funeral Costs With Military Benefits

Before spending thousands of dollars at the funeral home and cemetery, check to see if the decedent qualified for free funeral items from the government.  Why pay for something the government is willing to provide for free?  After all, the decedent has already earned it!

Many military veterans are eligible for free grave spaces and headstones.

You can search online for information about military benefits or check out section five of the Funeral Saver’s Kit.  It'll show you which services and goods are provided at no cost by the U.S. government and how to claim your benefits.

Note: be aware of so-called “free grave” scams that are sometimes offered to veterans.  This is where the veteran is offered a free grave site, but upon death, the family has to pay an unusually high price to have the grave site dug.

Watch out for scams

Because many surviving spouses want to be buried next to their deceased spouse, the cemetery may also double the price of all surrounding graves.  This allows the cemetery to make up any profits lost on the veteran's "free" grave.

Not surprisingly, these scams end up costing surviving spouses and children thousands of unexpected dollars every year.

If you would like to save money the next time you need to make funeral arrangements, you can search and compare local funeral home pricing at Parting.com.