Cremations can be affordable, but adding on services — such as viewings, burials, or memorial services — can make end-of-life costs rise well into the thousands. According to the National Funeral Directors Association, the median cost of a funeral with a cremation was approximately $6,971 as of 2021, while the median cost of a funeral with a viewing and burial was $7,848. The median cost of a direct cremation without added services was around $2,500. 
Setting up a life insurance policy to cover these bills and formally spelling out your final wishes in a will can save your loved ones the burden of sorting out your end-of-life expenses and help ensure that your wishes are carried out.
How much does a cremation cost?
The median cost of a direct cremation without a funeral service was about $2,455 as of 2021, according to the NDFA.
Depending on the type of cremation you choose, cremations are usually around 40% less expensive than a traditional burial, according to the 2022 NFDA Cremation & Burial Report. Costs of funeral services and cremations are rising, but not quite keeping up with inflation. 
Direct cremation without funeral service, with container supplied by family
Direct cremation without funeral service, with container supplied by funeral home or crematorium
Casket viewing with ceremony before cremation
Alternative cremation container
As you can see, the cost of cremation can end up being comparable to that of a burial service. And these costs don’t include a reception following a casket viewing for loved ones.
Types of cremation
As indicated in the chart above, there are two types of cremations to choose from:
Cremation with a funeral or memorial service
Direct cremation — a cremation that doesn’t include a memorial or funeral service
Cremation with a funeral or memorial service
Some people choose to have a traditional funeral service, after which the body is cremated rather than buried. Or, the cremation may happen first, with the remains buried as a part of the ceremony. A third option is a memorial service that happens some months later.
Cremations and a funeral service together aren’t quite as expensive as a funeral with a burial, but can still end up costing thousands. Based on the chart above, the median cost of a cremation with a funeral service was about $4,500 more than a direct cremation. Plus, those figures don’t factor in extra incidental costs like food, beverages, or floral arrangements.
The services included in these costs typically include:
Basic services charge
Removal and transfer of remains to the funeral home
Preparing the body (such as embalming)
Facility use and staff pay for viewing
Facility use and staff pay for ceremony
Ceremonial cremation casket
Fee for cremation
Direct cremations don’t include a memorial or funeral service, making them the least expensive option. After the body is cremated, the ashes are returned to the family, at which point they can choose to disperse them how (or where) they wish or keep them in an urn.
The costs of direct cremations usually include:
Cremation and crematory costs
Direct cremations are more affordable than a traditional burial or cremation followed by a gathering. How much you’ll actually pay depends on where you live and the funeral options offered in your area.
For example, a direct cremation in Detroit, Michigan, might cost $925, while a cremation in Los Angeles could be as low as $595. Comparing the costs at multiple crematoriums is the best way to find the most affordable price.
How to plan a cremation
Typically, funeral arrangements are made within days of a loved one’s passing. You can ease the financial and emotional burden on your loved ones by prepaying and pre-planning your final arrangements for them. Doing this also ensures that all of your final wishes can be carried out.
There are a few main factors to take into account when creating an end-of-life plan.
Making arrangements in advance
Spelling out your wishes
Providing financial support
Pre-arranging your ceremony
How you plan your cremation is a deeply personal choice. You’ll want to consider not just the cost, but also the people who are mourning the loss of someone they love.
Planning your end-of-life ceremony in advance may also help your loved ones account for all the available resources that they otherwise might not have known were available.
Specifying your final wishes
If you aren’t able to pre-arrange your end-of-life plans, you can still spell out your final wishes. Specifying your plan can help your family make important decisions on your behalf, especially if you want something like a sustainable cremation, which may require non-traditional arrangements.
If you’re leaving behind any assets or a life insurance death benefit, an end-of-life plan will enable your loved ones to locate and claim them in time to help with the new financial responsibilities that they’ll need to take on after you’re gone.
“Pre-planning … takes the burden off the family at the time of death and that actually fulfills the wishes of the deceased,” says Bob Jenkins, president and co-founder of Let Your Love Grow, a company specialized in creating living memorials using cremated ashes. “Financially, it usually helps because … all of a sudden the family is stuck with a pretty good-sized bill. If it’s pre-planned and funded properly, it’s such a burden taken away from that family.”
Ideally, leave your plans where they can be easily accessed after your death — with an attorney, financial advisor, funeral director, or the executor of your will. Using a professional ensures that your wishes are reviewed and taken into account, but sharing them with a trusted friend or relative can work, too.
Providing financial support
Cremations can be significantly cheaper than funerals, but if a celebration of life is a part of your plan, a memorial service can still put the cost of your final expenses into the thousands. You don’t want your loved ones taking out loans or dipping into their savings.
A life insurance policy is the best way to allow your family to properly grieve without suffering financial hardship. Even if you choose to have a direct cremation with no additional services, your savings might not cover all of your end-of-life expenses, including medical bills.
Final expense life insurance policies are often used for this specific purpose, and can be a big help especially if you don’t have many other financial obligations your family would be responsible for in your absence.
Families who have lost a loved one due to COVID-19 may be eligible to get assistance from FEMA of up to $7,000. According to FEMA, this subsidy — which will be available through Sept. 30, 2025 — can cover:
Transportation of the deceased
Two death certificates
Interment or cremation
Preparing your family
Planning for death isn’t easy, but it’s an important conversation to have with your loved ones. Having a discussion can help them feel prepared to make decisions on your behalf, both on an emotional and financial level.
A trusted professional can help you set up a robust plan to protect your loved ones financially, while also arranging for your wishes to be carried out after you pass away.
“The key to getting started is you have to talk about it. If you don’t talk about it, nothing’s going to happen,” says George Frankel, CEO of Eternal Reefs, a green cremation company based in Florida. “And by talking about it, you give your family one of the greatest gifts because the day you pass away is not the day that they should have to make all these decisions.”