You’ve made up your mind that she (or he) is the one with whom you want to spend the rest of your life. It’s an exciting, though nerve-wracking time, particularly as you may have decided to keep it a secret until you actually pop down on one knee and ask for your partner’s hand in marriage with an emotional and heartfelt proposal.
If no-one knows your secret, you may have to choose the engagement ring alone – with no help or advice about how to pick the perfect one.
You will be on your own – and it’s one of the most significant purchases you’ll ever make, of course, so you don’t want to make an expensive or embarrassing mistake.
If you and your partner are deciding on a ring together it makes things somewhat easier, but you will still have a formidable set of decisions to make.
Although we would love to wish you a stress-free shopping experience, we know it is likely to be fraught with anxiety, whichever route you take.
Let us try to relieve some of your stress and answer some of your inevitable questions:
Where should I shop?
See our recent article on the merits of buying an engagement ring online rather than at a traditional high-street jeweller. They have excellent customer service agents who can guide you through the purchase process.
The reputable ones offer high-quality rings at affordable prices and excellent return policies should you be unhappy with your purchase.
How much should I spend?
Let’s bust some myths upfront, here. There are no set rules!
How much should I spend on an engagement ring? Ah, the age-old question.
There are so many myths and common misconceptions about how much money you need to set aside for a ring.
It’s hard to know what the right answer is. The reality is: there is no concretebudget etiquette for buying an engagement ring because it varies by couple.
You will, no doubt, have heard the so-called “rule” set by clever marketers that says you should spend 2 or even 3 month’s salary on a ring. You can forget that right away. It is outdated and just plain wrong.
You can imagine the dollar signs in their eyes when they dreamed up that one!
There’s absolutely no rhyme nor reason to this rule; it’s just a marketing ploy to get you to spend more than you might have originally budgeted – and it originated in marketing materials produced by, you guessed it, none other than DeBeers.
Here are some of the reasons you may be coerced into spending too much:
- You don’t want to look cheap in front of your partner, her relatives and friends
- If it is to be a surprise, you’d rather not disappoint her with a lower-quality ring
- You want the ring to express your feelings about your partner – and how much you value her
- You want to match what other engaged couples you know have paid for theirs
- You decide to go by the average cost of an engagement ring according to industry sources
- You listen to friends’ advice
- You listen to a commissioned retail salesperson who is trying to upsell you
Stay calm. You’ve got this.
How much do engagement rings cost?
They cost whatever your financial situation will allow!
According to weddingstats.org, the current average cost of an engagement ring in 2019 in the US was between $4,770 – $5,580. Other statistics quote even higher average costs, some over $7,000 or more.
The Knot’s 2019 Jewelry and Engagement Study found that while the national average expenditure on an engagement ring is $5,900, one-third of all respondents are spending up to $3,000.
83% of couples are opting for diamonds, although sapphires and emeralds are on the upswing. 50% of the rings purchased were between one and two carats. 50% were round cut, with one-fourth a halo cut.
The average cost of a female wedding band is $1,100 and a men’s is $510. This needs to be factored into your budget, of course.
These are not inconsequential purchases. The research data are interesting, but you do not need togo by what others spend, or by the average cost.
Some couples spend a lot more than this; Brad Pitt spent $1 million on a diamond engagement ring when he proposed to Angelina Jolie. We’re guessing you’re not in that league.
Some couples spend a lot less than $4,000 and are happy with their purchase.
The answer is – you should spend what you are comfortable spending.
There are great ways to accomplish the look you want at any budget level. If you want to spend $1000 on a ring, that’s OK. If you want to spend $500,000 and can afford it – that’s OK too.
What should I take into consideration before setting a budget?
Think hard about your finances. Seriously.
This requires some honest thinking.
- What type of person are you?
- What type of married couple will you be? Are you saving for a house?
- Are you both frugal – or are you spendthrifts?
- Have you discussed money issues?
- Do you have a monthly or annual budget for all of your expenses?
- Do you even have a handle on what you spend?
- How much will the wedding cost – and where do these expenses rank in terms of importance compared with buying an engagement ring?
Look, you are making a life-long commitment to someone. You’ll be living together, if you are not already.
It makes sense to discuss your finances before you take the plunge -and definitely before you decide to splurge on an expensive ring that perhaps you can’t really afford.
Try and figure out what you can afford without racking up unnecessary debt. That’s not a great way to start out on a marriage.
If you are both involved in the budget setting and ring purchase process, sit down and make a decision together.
If this is to be a surprise, there are plenty of “covert ops” ways to find out what your partner really wants. Ask her friends and family, do some poking around – and swear them all to secrecy.
How do I decide what my budget should be?
Here’s what you should take into account before setting your budget. Your decision should be based on a careful balance between these three considerations:
- The expectations of your partner
- Your attitude to spending
- Your financial situation
Your Parter’s Expectations
Your partner’s expectations are VERY important; you want her to be proud of her ring and show it off every day.
She may not be concerned about price, but perhaps she has a particular ring size, style or shape in mind – or how it compares with a friend or co-worker’s ring.
If you can discuss it with her, that’s great. You can show her examples of ring styles she likes that are within your budget.
If you want to surprise her, ask a friend or family member to casually bring up the topic and find out her taste. Don’t just guess and hope you get it right!
Here are some pointers about personal style and how to figure out her expectations:
- Is she the Total Glam type? Does she like sparkly jewelry? A halo style ring with a large solitaire center ring might just do the trick
- Chic & Fashion Forward – She’ll like unusual diamond shapes such as pear or marquise
- Romantic – She’ll go for feminine, vintage settings, rose gold perhaps?
- Bold – Her style is in-your-face with bold colored diamonds or other gemstones
- Classic/ Minimalist – the single solitaire will match her traditional tastes
Your attitude towards spending
Do you routinely spend a lot on luxury items? Expensive cars? Travel?
If so, you’ll be comfortable with forking out thousands on a ring and that is absolutely fine.
Or are you a Walmart shopper with frugal tastes? When buying an engagement ring it’s important to think about the value you and your partner place on material things.
A big diamond may be the symbol of your love, or a smaller one may represent your commitment towards each other just as well. It all depends on you and your attitude towards money.
Here’s a short, useful test. Fast forward a year. Imagine your life then. Will you be happy having spent that amount on a ring?
Very likely you will, but it’s worth thinking about.
Bottom line is – your budget must be an amount you are comfortable with spending rather than what is expected.
Your financial situation
Think about your car loans, student debt, insurance, utilities, food, credit cards, mortgage or rent. These should be added up – or better still, put them into a spreadsheet!
What is left over for special purchases?
There are several online engagement ring calculators if you want to go that far.
Nerdwallet.com has an easy-to-use one. They’ll look at your income, lifestyle and debt-to-asset ratio, though you might consider this too cold an analysis for such an emotional purchase.
Now that I have a budget, what next?
Stick with it!
- Put the money in a separate savings account. Don’t touch it. Add to it!
- If you have a set budget, you’ll only see rings, stones and settings you can afford
- What about your wedding budget? Flowers? Reception? Who is paying for all that? Is the wedding itself more important to you than a pricey ring?
- Do you plan to start a family or buy a house after the wedding? You’ll need to save for these
- Do you have a savings goal? Think about specific things you can do to save money every day. Cut back on Starbucks? Eating out is expensive, so put that money aside in your ring savings account. You’ll be surprised how quickly it adds up.
What are your priorities in a ring?
OK, the next thing to decide is what your priorities are.
Are you looking for the highest quality diamond? Or are you willing to sacrifice quality for a larger carat weight and size? Will a simple band do – or would you like side stones?
These are all decisions that will factor into your final purchase.
One thing you should do is ALWAYS insist on third party certification for your diamond(s). Skimp on this and you may end up with a poorer quality diamond that will not retain its value.
The GIA created the first system to accurately reflect diamond quality, known as the 4Cs.
These are Color, Clarity, Cut and Carat Weight. GIA also developed the first InternationalDiamond Grading System™, which is a scientific method for evaluating and describing diamond quality using the 4Cs.
With a GIA Diamond Grading Report™ in hand, you can have confidence in what you are buying, because it is a scientific and unbiased blueprint of your diamond’s exact quality characteristics
The 4 C’s
Make sure you understand what each of the 4Cs means, because the quality – and therefore price – of the diamond or diamonds you choose will be reflected in each of these.
The cut reflects the symmetry, polish and proportion of the diamond and affects its visual brilliance. The better the cut, the more sparkle the diamond will reflect.
- Budget tip: Don’t skimp on the cut of the diamond you choose. A well-cut diamond looks larger than one with a lesser quality cut, so opt for the best you can afford
Color has a rating system. D, E, and F colored diamonds are the rarest and have an icy white appearance. G and H diamonds are more common; I and J diamonds have a warmer color which goes well with rose or yellow or rose gold and vintage styles.
- Budget tip: You can save money by opting for faint coloration in the stone, which you may not even notice.
Clarity is how clean or clear the diamond is and how few microscopic flaws or inclusions it shows under magnification. If you want a completely flawless diamond, choose an SI1 clarity rating.
- Budget tip: If you need to save money, this is one area in which you can do it. The flaws or inclusions in a diamond may be almost impossible to see with the naked eye, so one with a lower clarity rating can be a good option.
Carat represents the weight of a diamond, not its size.
- Budget tip: if you buy a diamond just under a carat weight (for example 2.8 or 2.9-carat) it will cost less than a 3-carat stone.
Which of the 4Cs is the most important?
The answer, again, will be based on your budget and your (or her!) personal preferences.
Is she expecting a big rock? If carat weight is your number one priority, then go for the largest diamond you can afford, given that you’ll have to compromise on its color, clarity and cut.
Similarly, if a flawless diamond is most important to you, then the other 4Cs will necessarily have to take second place.
Perhaps a balance of all 4Cs makes the most sense? We recommend you sit down and list your priorities in terms of the 4Cs – but stick to your budget!
As the 5th C is going to be cost and is the ONLY constant, you will have to choose what is most important to you between the other 4Cs.
What comes next?
Shape and Setting
Let’s tell you a little here about diamond shapes. Diamonds come in many different shapes, not just round. These include Princess, Cushion, Emerald, Asscher, Radiant, Marquise, Oval, Pear, and Heart.
Each diamond shape has its own unique look and is cut to different specifications.
Have the bride-to-be try on each shape, if you can, so that you can see if it suits her fingers. If it’s to be a surprise, ask her friends or family what shape she likes.
The following shapes tend to look larger than other diamonds of a similar carat weight, so they can help you from a budget standpoint:
- Marquise has the largest overall surface area,
- Oval is a stretched-out shape that looks bigger than a round shape
- Emerald is rectangular and looks bigger than a round shape
- Pear shape has one pointed end that tends to look bigger than other diamonds
Which diamond shape is the most affordable and which is the most expensive?
The most expensive diamond shape is the heart shape, because it is so difficult to cut.
Round cut diamonds are the most popular and they tend to hold their value better than other shapes, but they are not the most affordable.
Emerald cut diamonds are the least expensive because they do not require the same amount of expertise and time to cut them.
Oval, Asscher, Princess and Cushion cuts are also less expensive than the traditional Round Brilliant.
Once you’ve chosen a stone for your engagement ring, the setting comes next. Precious metal options include white gold, yellow gold, platinum, palladium, silver and rose gold.
The stone can account for up to 90% of the ring’s total cost but the setting really defines its overall look. You may even want to choose the setting before the stone.
Let’s say you’ve budgeted $4500 for the ring, $500 of that will be for the setting and $4000 for the diamond or other gemstone.
Here’s a quick primer on the types of settings available:
- Prong – six “claws” hold the stone in place. Shows off the center stone well, but can snag on clothing
- Pavé – tiny stones make up the entire ring surface. Sparkly, dazzling effect, less expensive than “rock”
- Halo – larger center stone surrounded by pave of smaller stones. Makes the ring look huge
- Bezel – stone is set in a metal rim. Secure, but choose the right color to complement the stone.
- Channel – sandwiches the stones between two metal bands. Safe for active lifestyles, but expensive
- Bar – thin vertical metal bars between each stone.
- Tension – compression spring pressure of the band holds a stone in place. Looks like its floating
In general, if budget is a concern, think about choosing a ring composed of smaller diamonds or pavé stones, rather than a bigger solitaire.
The popular halo setting, which is really on trend right now with celebrities, has a smaller center stone encircled by smaller gemstones – and it looks bigger than the actual combined weight of the stones, making it a good value for your money.
It’s not all about size. A clever style and setting can make your ring look huge – and envy-worthy – without breaking the bank.
Again, our new rules of engagement recommend youspend as much money on an engagement ring as you can afford.
Don’t let others tell you what to spend. It’s entirely up to you and your fiancé. If you don’t want to spoil the surprise, find out, carefully, what she thinks is a reasonable budget.
If you don’t agree on money matters, now is a good time to have that discussion out in the open. You’ll want to have attitudes towards money sorted out well in advance of the wedding to avoid unpleasant future clashes.
Yes, the engagement ring is a symbol of your love and commitment.
Yes, saving up and sacrificing other expenses for the sake of a lovely engagement ring is part of the romance and tradition.
Yes, you want her to gasp in happiness at your clever choice – but you don’t want her to faint in horror at the price tag, which could be either too high or too low!
When you get married, your debt becomes hers too and vice versa, so don’t saddle her with your expensive mistake. On the other hand, you want her to feel that she is highly valued and of utmost importance in your life, so don’t try to get by with a cheap ring that will embarrass her.
Like most things in life, it is all about finding that delicate balance.
Follow these rules of engagement and you’ll survive the engagement ring shopping process unscathed.
Again, many congratulations!