When it comes to weddings and marriage, some traditions are meant to be broken. When it comes to who pays for the wedding or the engagement ring, there’s no hard and fast rule that “the proposer” needs to shell out all the money. In fact, more and more, couples are choosing to buy engagement rings and wedding bands together or consider it a team purchase.
According to The Knot's 2020 Jewelry & Engagement Study, 72% of proposees reported being involved in the selection of their engagement ring. And why not? An engagement ring is a big purchase and one that should symbolize love, not stress and debt accumulation.
And while the joy of surprising your partner with the ring and making it part of the big planned proposal moment is part of the fun, taking budget cues and learning about your partner’s values can go a long way in making the purchase truly special instead of just a ritual.
“Surprises can feel romantic, but an engagement ring is a large purchase to make without the input of your spouse,” said Ashley Feinstein Gerstley, founder and CEO of The Fiscal Femme. “And even with a money conversation and plan for the purchase, there are plenty of elements that can still be a surprise."
For many couples, buying an engagement ring is the biggest purchase they've made to date. Setting a budget for a ring is a great way to kick off your union.
“You can have a conversation to decide on the budget, talk about what's important to you about the purchase and what else you might want to use that money for, said Feinstein Gerstley.
The most important thing to do is figure out how much you (or you both) can realistically spend–and ignore all the marketing and advertising language you’ve absorbed over the years. One great way to track expenses and identify how much you can realistically afford, is with a joint bank account.
“The "three-month salary" rule was created and perpetuated by the diamond industry as a means to boost sales,” said Jessica Bishop, CEO of Budget Savvy Bride. “Consider what your partner's tastes are and what you can realistically afford, and forget the marketing messaging.”
The first step is to have a conversation about the budget, and then decide on a number that you are both comfortable with. No matter who pays for the ring or if the other decides to chip in extra to get the desired dazzle, the key is not to feel like the ring is a financial weight.
“You don’t need to go into debt to purchase your dream engagement ring,” said Lauren McCawley, a jewelry expert who studied at the Gemological Institute of America. “Don’t hesitate to budget for an engagement ring like you would any other significant purchase.”
Think a big rock means a solid marriage? One study of 3,000 American couples who spent thousands of dollars on a ring were more likely to get divorced.
Because honestly, who says an engagement ring has to be a shiny new diamond that comes in a little blue box? Your partner may have something different in mind, something that feels more special and unique to her.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting that diamond solitaire, but for those who are excited to think bigger or want to make ethical choices, there’s no end to the ring possibilities. For example, antique or vintage rings, beyond the myriad styles and sizes, may suit couples who’d rather their rings symbolize something with less of an impact on the Earth.
“One major benefit to purchasing a preowned (antique or vintage) engagement ring is that it is more environmentally friendly. It takes a considerable amount of energy to mine and manufacture precious metals and gemstones,” said McCawley.
When it comes to style, glamour, and feeling like you’re wearing a piece of history on your finger, a vintage or antique ring can set yours apart from the others–often for less money than a new ring.
“One exciting benefit to shopping for a preowned ring is that the design styles are unlimited. You may fall in love with a certain design era in jewelry history and commence a treasure hunt to seek out the ring that best speaks to your personal style,” said McCawley. “Maybe it’s Art Deco, or retro, or Victorian.”
Depending on the ring, the stone, and its provenance, chances are you can find something in your budget that will dazzle as much (or more) than something new. Plus, like your union, you’ll know that your ring is likely one-of-a-kind.
“Whatever the design era, you can wear your antique ring with confidence that no one else has anything quite like it,” said McCawley.
Does your partner love to rock climb or do pottery? A dainty ring with a fragile stone may look beautiful but it may not be the best choice for everyday wear. Rings take the most abuse out of any piece of jewelry because they are worn on the hand and are most likely to get damaged from daily wear and tear.
“Something to keep in mind is the hardness of the center stone. You want to select a stone with a higher number on the Mohs scale, which is a measurement of mineral hardness,” said McCawley. “A diamond is the hardest gemstone on the Moh’s scale. A softer stone can chip, crack, or break. You’ll likely wear your engagement ring on a daily basis, so it needs a stone that can stand the (wear) test of time.”
According to the Mohs scale, rubies and sapphires are harder and less scratch resistant than turquoise, opals, or pearls.
Beware of falling in love with a dainty, delicate ring setting that you spotted on Pinterest or Etsy. While they may be aesthetically beautiful, dainty engagement rings are not designed to withstand daily wear and could need constant repairs. When buying a ring, think about how often it may need to be repaired or if stones will need to be replaced, which can add inconvenience, cost, and heartbreak.
“Consider her lifestyle and hobbies so that you prevent the ring from getting damaged or being uncomfortable for her to wear. If she’s going to wear it every day, it needs to be practical and comfortable,” said Bishop.
Don’t fall for online deals
When shopping or browsing for the ring together, McCawley recommends shopping small for the best experience and often, the best price. Often, paying money for that big rock advertised online at a low price online may not be as good of a deal as it may appear.
“One common mistake that couples make is price-shopping online for a diamond and then expecting their local jeweler to compete with that discounted price,” she said. Often, there is a big reason that a stone is so competitively priced on a large diamond website: it was not desirable within the jewelry trade market!”
Don’t be impressed by payment offers
Another common mistake is overpaying for a ring because you were impressed by the monthly payment options at that big mall chain store, says McCawley.
While taking out a loan, financing, or buying a ring with a credit card that offers a good introductory rate may be a good choice for some, unless you both plan on paying it off in a timely manner, it’s going to add your pre-wedding debt. Ask yourselves honestly: Do we really want to be paying off the ring long after the wedding?
“Any time you use a zero interest credit card it's really important to have a plan in place to pay that card off before the interest kicks in,” said Feinstein Gerstley. “It's also important to know yourself and your financial tendencies. If you've taken out a zero interest card before and ended up increasing your debt or not paying it off in time (you are not alone - this is very common), then it's important to consider that it could happen again.”
Unless you’re a trained diamond buyer, it’s best to consult with a professional when selecting your stone.
“Your local jeweler not only offers personalized service and attention, but they can also compete with the mall chain store’s ring quality and price. And yes, your local jeweler may have financing programs, too.
A jeweler will also be happy to tell you all about the different metals that can be used for wedding bands or settings.
The cut of a diamond can also affect how much you’ll spend. Round diamonds tend to be the priciest but other cuts (such as princess, emerald, pear, or Asscher) are just as sparkly and can offer more bang for the buck without sacrificing quality.
“The traditional round cut shape can be 30% more expensive than any other cut,” said Jessica Bishop, founder of Budget Savvy Bride. “You could save money by choosing a different cut for your diamond other than round.”
The same is true with metals.
“Fine jewelry is crafted with precious, or noble metals, like platinum, gold, and sometimes sterling silver,” she said. “Alternative metals offer a more budget savvy option, but they have compromises. For example, a tungsten carbide ring cannot be resized.”
Ultimately the choice comes down to your partner and how you view the entire idea of wedding rings and what they symbolize, beyond the cost. Marriage is a joining of hearts but it's also a joining of your financial lives.
“Your partner may feel like spending a huge amount on a ring is unnecessary, and that your money would be better invested elsewhere,” said Bishop. “It’s important to get a better idea of what your partner likes from those closest to her so you can settle on a ring that they’ll love, and that your wallet can actually afford.”
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