Admittedly, this isn't an appealing topic, but it's an important one, and a financial one, too. Cremation is a lot less costly than a traditional burial, and it is more environmentally sound, too, using less land. It has been growing in popularity over the past few years. Today, roughly a quarter of all deaths in the United States are followed by cremation, with the Cremation Association of North America estimating that 40% of all bodies will be cremated by 2010. In some states, such as Florida, Washington, Alaska, and Arizona, it's estimated that cremation will be used in more than 65% of deaths.

One benefit is that you (or your loved one) won't end up in a cemetery, but instead your remains can be buried or scattered in places that have special meaning, such as your church's memorial garden or a favorite mountain. (Though perhaps your favorite restaurant won't want your ashes scattered across the salad bar, so ask first.)

With cremation, don't be talked into getting an expensive casket. A simple wood or cardboard one should do -- it will be quickly destroyed, anyway. Some states permit there to be no casket at all. (You can also rent a casket if you want to have one for a funeral service.) When the cremation is over, you can purchase a memorial urn for anywhere from $25 to several hundred dollars, and it can be buried or displayed.

A simple cremation can cost several hundred dollars, while a funeral service with cremation can cost up to $2,000 or $3,000, depending on the choices you make. That's considerably less than the cost of a typical funeral.

For related information, check out our previous Q&A on how to save money on funerals. Our article "The Facts of Death" is also eye-opening. Also drop by our Funerals and Cemeteries discussion board to see what folks are saying or to share your own thoughts.

This is a grim topic to think about, but if you talk with family members and make sure that everyone is aware of everyone else's preferences, it can save you and your loved ones a lot of headaches and money!