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 traditional burials and is more environmentally sound, too, using less land. It has been growing in popularity over the past years. Today, roughly a quarter of all deaths in the U.S. are followed by cremation, with the Cremation Association of North America estimating that 40% of all deaths 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 the remains can be buried or scattered in places that have special meaning, such as your church's memorial garden or a favorite mountain.

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 rent a casket if you want to, also, for a funeral service.) When the cremation is over, you'll receive a few pounds of ashes and bone fragments. You can purchase a memorial urn for between $25 and several hundred dollars, if you want, which 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 some 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, the Funeral Consumers Alliance, Profits of Death, and the long but informative Funerals and Ripoffs. 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!

And by the way, if you wish you had a financial pro to talk to, to address your specific personal situation and help ensure that you're saving enough to meet all your needs, then read more about TMF Money Advisor. It's a valuable new service we're offering, featuring customized independent advice from a variety of objective financial pros.