Cremation vs. burial -- what about cost?

I was recently talking with an older woman in my church. She told me that it would cost $33,000 for her and her husband to be buried in a cemetery in our city, not including the cost of caskets or the burial plots. They already own the burial plots, but if they had to buy them today, the cost would be $11,000 each. Why so expensive? Well, land is very expensive in my city, and apparently this cemetery engineers the graves to withstand a nuclear strike. Are there cheaper options? It’s difficult to figure out without a lot of effort since the funeral industry thrives on opacity. Our state only allows burials to occur in established cemeteries, which are regulated by cities and counties, and since our state is a nightmare of zoning, regulation, and NIMBYism, I wouldn’t be surprised if it is difficult to get a permit to establish a new cemetery, leaving one faced with whatever prices the established cemeteries want to charge. In fact, in my online research I discovered that one major city (population nearly 1 million) in my state doesn’t allow any cemeteries within city limits.

This elderly couple is now planning on cremation because the cost of burial is so high. Any thoughts?


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I don’t have any suggestions to offer, but if I did they would likely be conditioned by the statutes and regulations of their residence. Can you let us know what state you’re in?

As to costs generally, one strategy is to purchase cemetery lots as early as you can afford them. Most of you know that my nine-year old daughter Francesca died of a brain tumor 23 years ago. Instead of purchasing one plot, we purchased three - for Cheska and also for me and my wife, so we could be together on Resurrection Day.

At the time, the cemetery was filling up, and my parents had just moved to our town to be closer to me as they entered their final years. They moved the same year Cheska died, and I pestered them to purchase cemetery plots adjoining the ones I had purchased.

I paid $400 for each plot. Twenty-three years later plots in the same cemetery are selling for $1,500. That’s almost 12 percent return on investment annually! When I heard the current cost of plots in that cemetery, I began to wonder if I shouldn’t have invested in additional plots at the time!

Another strategy that may be available is to purchase and store the caskets you will use ahead of time. This would require, of course, an affordable and suitable place of storage - not everyone has this. But, if you do, then check out the caskets available from Walmart (!). Or check out the build-your-own-casket kit available at Etsy. Brief tutorials are available on You-Tube. And, don’t forget eBay for caskets.

If the deceased has an honorable discharge, he or she (AND the spouse) may be buried in a military cemetery at amazing savings, which includes a handsome casket and simple headstone.

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Thanks, @Fr_Bill.

The biggest cost point is not the burial plots (which they purchased long ago) or the caskets; it is that the cemetery is going to charge $33,000 for the interment.

We live in California.

Yes, I wanted to ask about that number. Other than casket, the costs are funeral (an expense you have in either case), embalming (which can be skipped with a closed-casket funeral), transportation of the casket to the cemetery, and cemetery fees. Are you sure the number above is entirely cemetery fees?

If so, land is cheap elsewhere, and they could sell the plots to pay for transport to a reasonable cemetery. They may have to forgo a graveside service to accomplish that, but other than that, I don’t see the downside.

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Cemetery is the problem. Googling turned up San Diego link does direct burials for $1,300. South of you, but google “green burials” and you should be able to help them easily, as long as they’re willing to switch cemeteries.

Hmmmm. If that $33K fee is “generic” - that is, something they’ll run into anywhere in California - then it sounds as if they might be money ahead purchasing cemetery plots in the deserts of Nevada or Arizona, transporting their remains there, and being buried that way.

Otherwise, if it’s just the cemetery association itself which is hijacking estates of those who own property in their cemetery, then perhaps they can sell their plots to some other sucker(s), and purchase new lots at lower prices in some much-less pissy cemetery.