How Much to Spend on an Engagement Ring

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When you’re in love, the world is brighter, colors are more vibrant, and you walk through life as though you’re floating on a cloud. Now that you’ve found “the one,” you’re thinking of popping the big question. But how much should you spend on an engagement ring?

Don’t be fooled into thinking that the size of the diamond determines the amount of your love. Knowing her style and understanding her expectations can help narrow down your price range before you walk into a jewelry store.

Every person is different, and what works for the average person might not fit your situation. Instead of taking on a big chunk of debt when starting your new life together, take some time to consider how much you should spend on an engagement ring.

The Cost of an Engagement Ring

Have you seen the price of diamonds lately? They’re not cheap. A 2017 study by The Knot found that the average price of an engagement ring was $6,351.

When it comes to pricing, there are a lot of factors that go into how much a diamond costs. The “four Cs” determine the bulk of the price. Depending on cut, carat, color and clarity, a classic one-carat diamond can range from $2,000 to more than $12,000.

You don’t have to end up with a cheap-looking ring just because you’re on a tight budget. High-end retailers such as Cartier and Tiffany & Co. have much higher markups than most. You can save a considerable amount of money by shopping around. Before you even do that, though it’s important to talk about expectations with your fianceé.

Understanding Expectations

Most women start dreaming about their wedding at a young age and already have an idea of how they want their engagement ring to look. The best way to know what kind of ring your partner is looking for is to ask.

An engagement ring is only part of the cost of getting married. There’s also the wedding venue, caterer, photographer, dress and wedding cake to think about. Talking about what you both want in these categories will get the two of you on the same page about how much you’re comfortable spending.

When it comes to the ring, you’ll also want to consider the shape of the diamond, type of setting and whether you already have a family heirloom you could use. Your fianceé’s preference for the kind of metal — whether it’s white gold, platinum, yellow gold or rose gold — will factor into the total cost, too.

If you want the ring to be a surprise, you can still get an idea about what her expectations are. Looking at other jewelry she owns can help you figure out what kind of metal she likes and what her style is. Talking to family members or friends can guide you to the right choice, too.

Know Your Finances

You want to knock your bride-to-be’s socks off with the perfect engagement ring, but first you need to know what you can afford to spend. After all, your relationship is more than the engagement. There are significant costs associated with planning a wedding, reception and honeymoon, and you have your future to think about, too.

Since you’ll likely merge your finances when you get married, you shouldn’t spend more than you can reasonably afford. If you’re like most young professionals who carry an average of $37,000 in student loans, you don’t want to go into more debt to purchase a ring.

Starting your lives together burdened with debt will put added stress on your marriage right from the beginning. Before you run out to the jewelry store, consider these parts of your financial situation:

  • Your net income. How much money you take home is the most critical factor when deciding how much you can spend on an engagement ring. To calculate your net income, start with your gross income and subtract deductions and contributions like taxes, health insurance premiums, and retirement savings.
  • Monthly obligations and other expected expenses. Paying your monthly bills — housing, utilities, car payment, insurance and groceries — is a primary concern before adding in the cost of a diamond ring. You can get this information by creating a budget if you don’t already have one. Don’t forget to add in irregular expenses you have throughout the year, such as car maintenance, school tuition and hair cuts.
  • Medical costs. In addition to health insurance premiums, there are other medical costs to think about. If you make frequent doctor visits, have regular prescriptions to fill, or you’re paying on an old medical bill, those costs will impact how much money you have available.
  • Entertainment. Everyone likes to have fun, and if you commit to high monthly payments when buying an engagement ring, you won’t have extra money for entertainment. There are plenty of ways to have fun without spending a lot, but you may sacrifice your ability to travel, go to concerts, visit the theater, or have dinner at restaurants.
  • Short-term goals. Financial goals you’d like to achieve in the next one to two years can impact how much you’re comfortable spending on an engagement ring. For instance, if you’re saving for a on a car, new furniture, a down payment on a home, or to retire early, you shouldn’t blow too much of your money on a ring.
  • Your savings. Maybe you already have significant savings built up and spending several thousand dollars on a ring won’t make much of an impact on your finances. If that’s the case, then great! But if the balance in your bank account is minuscule, paying a lot for a diamond ring can put your financial health in jeopardy.
  • Potential income. Being in a job with high growth potential might mean you can devote a little more of your income toward the purchase of an engagement ring. Be careful not to go overboard, though. Just because you’re expecting to earn more down the road doesn’t mean it will become a reality.

Buying an engagement ring without incurring any debt is the ideal solution, and accounting for the factors above should give you a pretty good idea of what you can spend. But if you’re planning to finance part of the purchase, don’t borrow more than you can reasonably pay off in a couple of months.

“Rules” for How Much to Spend on an Engagement Ring

Everyone has an opinion on how much money you should use to buy an engagement ring. From the two-month rule, to matching the national average, to buying a ring based on the age of the woman, there are a lot of crazy ideas.

The Two-Months’ Salary Rule

You may already be familiar with the idea that you should spend two months’ salary on an engagement ring. It’s the guideline that tries to dictate what you can afford to spend, except that it doesn’t account for your entire financial picture.

Plus, the notion of spending two months’ wages on a ring started as a marketing campaign in the 1980s. Created by De Beers, the most prominent name when it comes to diamonds, the two-month rule was designed to lure buyers into connecting the amount of money they’re willing to spend with the worth of their relationship.  

The two-months’ salary rule is a myth. Deciding the budget for your significant other’s ring is a very personal decision, and a commercial shouldn’t dictate what you spend. If you’re like most people who are engaged, you’re near the start of your career and carrying student loan debt. Spending two-months’ salary on a ring might not be possible.

The National Average Rule

You want to get your girl a ring she is proud of, and there is pressure to buy one she can show off to her family and friends. Spending what the average man spends on an engagement ring might seem like a reasonable decision, but it could be a lot more than what you can afford.

According to a 2017 study by Ebates, almost half of men and women in the U.S. expect to spend $1,000 to $5,000 on an engagement ring. This is slightly less than the national average price of $6,351.

Don’t feel pressure to measure up to the average man when it comes to buying the perfect ring. You can use this rule as a starting point, but there’s no need to break your budget to get a great engagement ring.

The Age Rule

Perhaps the most irrational rule when it comes to buying an engagement ring is the age rule. This says that you should choose the size of the diamond size based on the age of the woman.

That means if you’re young and in love, and plan to propose to your 18-year-old partner, you should buy a 1.8-carat diamond ring. With the average woman being 27 years old when she gets married, you’d need a 2.7-carat diamond.

The trouble is, if you’re getting married later in life, planning a second (or third) marriage, or simply prefer older women, you’ll need a much larger diamond. According to this rule, you should buy a 5.0-carat diamond if you’re marrying a woman who is 50. That seems ridiculous.

While you can use the two-month rule or national average as a general starting point, you should throw this “age rule” right out the window.

Make Your Own Rules

The absolute best way to find the right engagement ring is to make your own rules. This usually starts with you and your significant other having an honest conversation. If you’re planning to share a life, talking about expectations and finances is something you should do anyway.

Since buying a ring is just the beginning, starting with a budget is crucial. Talking with your partner about what kind of wedding you’d each like to have plays a part when engagement ring shopping, too.

If having a big wedding isn’t a priority, you might justify spending more on a ring because you’ll save money on the reception. Or maybe you’ll choose to postpone your honeymoon until later so you can splurge on a more expensive ring now.

It might be tough to balance the reality of your finances with the dreams you’ve had about this time in your life. As with most things, it comes down to communication.

Talking about the cost of a ring isn’t romantic, but it’s essential. It’ll give you an idea of what is important when it comes to buying an engagement ring and planning a wedding. That can save you both from feeling disappointed if you take a blind guess and miss.

And remember that a more expensive ring won’t make your marriage better. Spending more than you can afford on a ring won’t make either of you happy if you’re struggling to make ends meet after you say “I do.”

Finding the Right Ring

It’s much easier to pick out a ring than it is to find the person you want to spend the rest of your life with. But there are as many different options as there are women in the world. You might wonder how you’ll ever find the right engagement ring.

Many women already have a clear vision of how they want their ring to look. If you’re going to get the ring precisely right, you can always take her shopping and let her pick it out.

Traditionally, the man selects the ring and presents it when popping the question. And if this is more your style, there are a few points to ponder to find the right one.

  • Her lifestyle
  • Personal style
  • Her ring size
  • The four Cs
  • The metal
  • Protection

Her Lifestyle

Most women wear their engagement ring every day, and removing it for work, sports or hobbies is inconvenient. When picking out a ring, you’ll need to consider her lifestyle.

Ask yourself what she does each day. If she works a lot with her hands, like a chef, landscaper or welder do, you may want to look at rings without high-set diamonds. If she’s a nurse, physical therapist, or in another profession where she takes care of people, having an elevated diamond can cause it to get caught on clothing or scratch another person.

Does she have a hobby that causes her hands to get messy? A more traditional setting, like a solitaire, is easier to clean. This is perfect if she likes to get her hands dirty in the garden or art studio. Or for someone who is active in sports or weightlifting, going with a simple wedding band that she won’t have to remove when she works out might be a better option.

Personal Style

Every woman has her own style. Some are more reserved, others like to stand out in a crowd. To understand her personal style, pay attention to the fabrics she chooses, and the colors and styles she wears.

You can also take pictures of jewelry she already has and bring them with you to the store. The jeweler can help you choose the right design and shape of the diamond based on the selections she already has.

It’s hard to go wrong when buying a diamond if you go with a classic solitaire. That said, everyone has their own style, and making a more personalized choice can add meaning and sentiment to the ring.

Her Ring Size

You may think her ring size doesn’t matter because you can always take the ring back to the store and have it sized to fit. Keep in mind certain types of ring designs are challenging to resize. You’ll want to ask the jeweler about this before committing to a purchase.

It’s also disappointing to send the engagement ring back to the jeweler and wait for it to be resized after the excitement of the proposal.

The Four Cs

Every diamond gets a grade according to the carat, cut, color and clarity. It’s these four Cs that determine the worth of the stone. The clearer, more flawless and colorless the diamond, the more it costs.

Starting with the carat weight that’s closest to your price range, the price can go up and down depending on the other three Cs. Cut determines fire and brilliance, the most noticeable elements.

After considering the carat size and cut that maximizes your budget and the shine of the stone, you can factor in clarity and color.

You’ll want to be familiar with these terms and understand how they impact the cost and the beauty of the stone before you get to the jewelry store. And only get a diamond that is GIA certified or AGS certified to make sure you’re getting a quality stone.

The Metal

The type of metal that holds the diamond also plays a role in the overall cost of the ring. The most popular ring metal is white gold. To keep the silvery white color, the ring is coated with rhodium that resists scratches and tarnishing. But the rhodium does wear off and will require re-plating over time.

Platinum is a naturally white metal, though it’s more expensive than white gold. It stands up better when it comes to wear and tear, so it’s a good option for women who lead active lifestyles. It’s also an excellent choice for people with sensitive skin, since it’s naturally hypoallergenic.

Yellow gold is the traditional choice for engagement rings, and it features a high contrast to the brilliance and shine of the diamond. For a unique look, rose gold is another option. It isn’t as popular as the other three choices but is more durable than yellow or white gold.

Ultimately, the type of metal you choose for the engagement ring will probably depend on the preference of your bride.

Protection

Most every jewelry store will offer a plan that you can buy for additional warranty and insurance protection. And rightly so, since purchasing an engagement ring is a significant investment.

Rings are small and can easily fall down a bathroom drain or slip off her finger at the beach. There’s also a chance of theft or damage, so you’ll want to add the cost of a protection plan into your budget when shopping for a ring.

Shopping for an Engagement Ring

When it comes time to pick out a ring, a few tips can ensure you get the best value. To help with your budget, here are some ideas on how to save money on an engagement ring.

  • Don’t shop at peak times. The busiest time to buy a diamond is from Thanksgiving to Valentine’s Day. You’ll pay more during these peak times.
  • Know before you go. It’s easy to get carried away in the moment when you’re shopping and spend more than you can afford. Know what you’re looking for in terms of size, type of metal, and shape of the stone before you go. You can also consider giving up a fraction of carat size to save money, since a 0.78 carat stone costs a lot less than a full carat.
  • Pick the right setting. You can make a small diamond look bigger if you find a ring with a flashy setting. Also, a halo design can add sparkle without adding a lot of cost.
  • Go with an alternative shape. Round-cut diamonds are by far the most popular, which means they’re also the most expensive option. An oval or pear-shaped diamond will often cost less.
  • Shop around. Some reputable online jewelers offer significant savings on engagement rings. Do your research ahead of time to get the best diamond for your budget. Check the prices and quality of rings at online retailers like James Allen or Blue Nile. Also sign up to receive special offers and discounts from local jewelers including Kay Jewelers, Zales, Fred Meyer Jewelers, Jared and others.
  • Check out estate sales. Engagement rings that are brand new always cost more than one you buy second-hand. Estate sales are a great place to pick up a quality ring at a fraction of the cost. To avoid misunderstandings, make sure your new bride doesn’t mind getting a used ring.
  • Consider other stones. No law says an engagement ring has to have a diamond. You can go with a white sapphire for a diamond-like look. Opting for a blue sapphire, rubies, or an emerald stone are also popular choices.

Going into debt to buy an engagement ring isn’t the wisest thing to do, but not everyone has thousands of dollars set aside to pay cash for a ring up front. Saving a little now to help with the cost means you won’t have to borrow as much later when you’re ready to propose.

If you’re not in a position to pay cash for a ring, financing it is something to consider. Some credit cards offer 0% interest for promotional periods if you’re a new customer. But you’ll have to pay off the balance in full before the promotional period ends. Interest rates can skyrocket after that.

Another option is to finance the ring directly through the jewelry store, though they tend to have higher interest rates. It might seem easier because you’re already there at the jewelry store, but let yourself get pressured into doing it. If you do use the store’s financing option, read the fine print carefully to make sure you understand the terms before signing.

Bottom Line

Even though they say “when you know, you know,” choosing to propose to your partner is a big decision. When you’re ready, take the time to discuss finances and expectations before buying an engagement ring.

Getting married and joining your life with another person is stressful enough. Don’t add to the stress by letting yourself feel pressured to spend more than you can reasonably afford.

If you want to start with the “two months’ salary” rule or spend close to the national average, you can. But make sure you adjust how much you’re going to pay according to your financial situation. Whatever your budget, you can find the perfect engagement ring to represent the love you have for each other.


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3 COMMENTS

3 responses to “How Much to Spend on an Engagement Ring”

  1. Steveark says:

    Or you could do what my wife did and chose not to have any engagement ring. Just a plain gold band that cost $71 for each of us. I guess it worked so far for the first 40 years we’ve been married!

  2. feman says:

    I am very surprised Well Kept Wallet would promote the diamond hype. Diamonds are pretty, but worth much less than their emotionally inflated prices command. If you are going to spend two months salary on your true love, give an investment account, stocks, or something else that has real value.

    • Deacon says:

      I understand what you are saying. An investment account would be more practical and give back in the long run. However, some people will only give the real thing, and this post was intended to help them not go overboard when doing it. Thanks for your comments!

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