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8 unconventional funeral ideas to celebrate your loved one

These funeral alternatives can personalize a memorial and, in many cases, save thousands of dollars.

Going with an alternative funeral means that your loved one’s memorial can reflect the things they enjoyed, like gardening or staying environmentally conscious. At the same time, these funerals often cost several thousand dollars less than the typical $9,000 you’d pay for a traditional service. If you’re looking to save money or personalize your loved one’s celebration of life, you can do both with these alternative funeral and cremation ideas.

1. Green burials

A green burial is a funeral that uses biodegradable materials for burial, like a cardboard or wooden casket and natural or no embalming. Many people see this burial as one final way to give back to the planet or as a low-cost funeral alternative.

Green burials generally cost $1,000 to $4,000, depending on your exact burial plans and the plot. Green cemeteries may not use traditional headstones, saving hundreds of dollars on this memorial item.

However, even cardboard coffins must meet the durability standards intended for wood, making green burials not exactly dirt cheap. At the end of the day, the real differences in cost lie in the specifics.

GPS markers instead of headstones

A lot of energy and expense goes into making classic granite headstones. One modern alternative is to use GPS markers in place of a headstone, letting loved ones find a grave the high-tech way. You can find the GPS coordinates yourself with these steps:

  1. Go to the gravesite and open your phone’s maps app.
  2. From there, either tap to set your location or find the dot on the map that represents where you are.
  3. Depending on which app you use, you can tap and hold your location, then open the details for your location to see the coordinates.
  4. Share your location or the coordinates with others.

You also can find apps that use the burial plot or headstone photo to find the GPS coordinates. These apps can store the grave’s location for you or others, making it easier for everyone to find the memorial site later.

Gardens instead of graveyards

Some eco-style graveyards are turned into gardens with plants and flowers to create a serene, natural atmosphere. You can find a handful of dedicated eco-burial sites around the US and plenty of sites with sections dedicated to green burials.

2. QR code headstones

New cemeteries may feature modern technologies likeQR Code QR codes on headstones directing visitors to a memorial web page. You can get these codes engraved on your loved one’s memorial stone through a few companies that sell gravestones. Since technology is always advancing, you might think through how long this trend may last before applying it to a headstone.

3. Creative uses for ashes

When using cremation as an alternative burial, many loved ones like to spread or use the ashes in a special way. Some fresh ideas include:

  • Sending ashes to space. If you pay several thousand dollars, you can have your loved one’s ashes sent to space to float among the cosmos, end up on the moon or return to earth.
  • Embedding ashes in personal items. If you want a memorial item that represents your loved one better than a ceremonial urn, you could opt to use their ashes to build artificial reefs, have the ashes compressed into jewelry or used in an hourglass for a keepsake. These services may cost $2,000 to $3,000, well below the typical cost of a funeral service.
  • Creating a vinyl record. One idea that’s proven popular is having ashes pressed into a vinyl record for about $3,000. The record can include your choice of nature sounds or your loved one’s favorite songs.

4. Human composting

This type of burial is a way of bypassing traditional funerals altogether and giving back to the planet more directly.

A few facilities in America are licensed to perform this type of burial, including Herland Forest, a natural burial cemetery in Washington. The process varies by the facility, but the main idea is to help the body decompose quickly, similar to cremation but often using more natural methods. The facility may plant a tree or perform another memorial action to provide closure for loved ones.

5. Cryonics

Cryonics involves preserving rather than burying a recently deceased person in the hope that future technology can bring them back to life. Costing anywhere from $30,000 to $150,000, a handful of companies like the American Cryonics Society are willing to perform this process.

However, no one knows when or if restoring people to life will be possible. If it becomes possible, your loved ones may need a trust fund to help with the possibly enormous cost of this procedure.

7. Modern cemeteries

A more tame funeral idea is to find a newly built cemetery built to use space efficiently or to offer a contemplative experience with ponds, greenhouses and other amenities.

For example, the Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn offers burial sites that can hold multiple people, a koi pond, cherry trees, fountain and meditation space to encourage a reflective visit. These experiential services are made possible because of space-saving cremation over traditional burial.

8. Virtual funerals

A virtual memorial on a video platform such as Zoom, Skype or Google Meets is a safe way for family members near and far to witness your loved one’s service amid the coronavirus pandemic. Plus, this type of service cuts the cost of having to pay for a brick and mortar venue, or catering.

A video funeral also offers endless funeral customization options, like the addition of music, photos and videos, the ability to have multiple speakers throughout the service and you can easily record the entire service to share and keep over the years. You’ll just need to choose someone to handle the logistics, like the video platform host, technical issues, e-invites, camera setup and platform settings.

What types of funerals do Americans prefer?

Nearly half of Americans are planning to be cremated, while only a third want a traditional burial, according to a survey by Choice Mutual called “From Traditional to Bizarre: How America Wants to Be Buried in 2020.”

This preference affects how funerals are planned and will be held in the future, and many people might bear the funeral costs more easily with cremation and other alternative funerals.

Traditional burial cost vs. alternative burial costs

While these costs don’t take into account how you’ll carry out your loved one’s memorial service, the type of burial you choose is often one of the most expensive parts of planning a funeral.

Type of burialAverage cost
Traditional burial$9,000
Green burial$1,000 – $4,000
Human composting$5,500
Cryonics$30,000 – $150,000

Bottom line

Because traditional funerals can cost more than many loved ones have in savings, many people are looking for cost-saving ways to give their loved ones a memorial. Since memorial ideas like sending ashes to space can cost thousands less than a standard burial, you or your loved ones could plan an unconventional funeral that’s special and unique to the deceased person.

And if you’re planning ahead for the future, consider a burial insurance policy or another life insurance plan to help your loved ones pay for your end-of-life costs. Your funeral plan benefit doesn’t have to be spent on the funeral — it can be your going-away present or inheritance as well.

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