If you’re looking to buy an engagement ring, you’re right on time. According to most surveys on when to buy an engagement ring, December is the most popular month to pop the question.
So if you’re wondering how much you should spend on an engagement ring and what to look for when shopping for one, read on.
Average Engagement Ring Cost
Every year, the wedding website The Knot has a study that shows how expensive weddings are. When The Knot 2019 Jewelry and Engagement Study was released earlier this year, in which 8,992 respondents around the country were surveyed, it found that the average cost of an engagement ring is $5,900.
If that depresses you, it might help to know that one-third of Americans are spending between $1,000 and $3,000 on their engagement ring, and 10% spend less than $1,000. So prices can range dramatically.
Brianna Parks, an elopement photographer based in Redding, California, points out that you can always upgrade your ring later.
“I know a ton of couples who decide to upgrade their rings later due to finances. In fact, I personally think this is smarter than going into debt or dropping money you don’t have on a ring. It causes wedding stress right out of the gate and starts the engagement off on a sour note,” Parks says.
[See: 35 Ways to Save Money.]
What to Look for When You Purchase an Engagement Ring
The metal. “Does your significant other prefer yellow gold, white gold or platinum?” asks Emily Underhill, a professional shopping guide and personal stylist based in New York City. She says she has spent years working on cruise ships, and jewelry is one of the main items she has helped people purchase.
Underhill says that if you don’t want to ask your significant other what type of ring he or she would like, pay attention to what type of jewelry your partner wears the most. That might offer a clue about what type of band to buy.
“When it comes to gold, the higher the karat, the more pure, pricier and softer the gold will be. It’s a good idea to learn the basics of common jewelry metals before going shopping,” she says.
As for how much to spend, that’s up to you. But The Knot’s study found that the average cost of a female wedding band is $1,100, while the average cost of a man’s wedding band is $510. White gold is the most popular wedding material for women; tungsten is popular with men.
Think about the center stone. “The center stone is arguably the most important part of the engagement ring because it is the focal point,” Underhill says, adding that you should aim to get a strong stone that will stand the test of time, like diamonds, sapphires, emeralds or rubies.
“You’ll want to avoid softer stones such as opals and amethyst since they scratch easily,” she says.
Security. We aren’t talking about needing a security guard to watch over your engagement ring, but security, as in, you want to make sure the center stone doesn’t go anywhere.
“Petite bands are in style, but they go best with smaller stones. As a rule of thumb, the bigger the stone, the thicker the band should be,” Underhill says.
[Read: Money Saving Challenges.]
The Unwritten Rules: How Much to Spend on an Engagement Ring
You’ve probably heard a lot of “rules” about how much an engagement ring should cost. For instance, there are a number of unwritten rules, including:
The three-month rule. Sometimes you’ll hear two months, but generally, you’ll hear that you should spend the equivalent of three months’ salary on an engagement ring.
The age rule. Somebody once came up with the idea that the man or woman proposing should buy a diamond ring that has a size equivalent to the woman’s age. So if your bride is 31 years old, you’d buy her a 3.1 carat diamond engagement ring.
The more you love the person, the bigger the stone rule. No explanation needed.
Maybe these are great rules to follow if you’re beyond wealthy and want to help keep the economy humming. For the rest of us, not so much.
“I think the idea of spending three months’ salary is very antiquated. It’s unsustainable for most couples these days, and a lot more couples are making financial decisions together,” says Olivia Ewing Shoemaker, who owns Olivia Ewing Jewelry in Pittstown, New Jersey.
In other words, put a check on your spending so you can live in a house and not a poorhouse.
“It’s more important for a lot of couples to spend a smaller amount on a ring that’s a meaningful symbol to their relationship and jointly save the difference for travel, a house, etc. Just like a lot of millennial couples are opting for smaller weddings, I see a trend in purchasing smaller rings,” Shoemaker says.
How to Save When Looking for an Engagement Ring
The biggest mistake you can probably make in looking for an engagement ring is to blindly go shopping and buy a ring at the first store you visit. Sure, you may get something great, but you probably won’t save money and may miss out on finding a better ring.
So you’ll want to take the following steps.
1. Comparison shop. The more research you do, the better informed you’ll be to make a smart decision. In addition to checking local retailers, look online.
You may have heard about the four C’s with diamond rings — color, cut, clarity and carat — and the better the C’s, the better the diamond (and the more expensive). That said, Shoemaker points out that you can’t always go by the C’s. She says that gray or salt and pepper diamonds are popular, but those don’t conform to the traditional C’s, and when it comes to alternative stones, like rubies or emeralds, “beauty is more important than grading.”
But if you do want a diamond ring, the grading scale goes from flawless (FL) diamonds, which are extremely rare, to an included (I3) diamond, which has the most imperfections and is a less expensive option.
2. Consider the source of the stone. “Sustainability and ethics are very important to a lot of younger couples today, and the origin of the stone is definitely something to look for,” Shoemaker says. “Beyond ethically sourced diamonds, a lot of couples are opting for U.S. lab-grown diamonds, moissanite or even alternative, domestically mined stones like Montana sapphire or Oregon sunstone.”
Moissanite is a gemstone that has become popular in recent years — and it’s a less expensive alternative to diamond engagement rings.
3. Talk to your relatives. You could save a lot of money if one of your parents or grandparents has a diamond ring that they’ve been hanging onto as a family heirloom and wouldn’t mind if it was turned into an engagement ring.
[Read: How to Save Money for Your Kids.]
4. Talk to your significant other. If you shop for the ring together, the whole engagement ring buying process may go better, says Keith Willard, a wedding planner in Oakland Park, Florida.
But I want to surprise my beloved with a proposal, and that requires having an engagement ring, you may argue.
Willard has a counter argument. “For many of my couples, the groom will get a simple ring for when he pops the question and then go ring shopping with his fiancé,” he says. “This means that she will get truly what she wants. The whole idea of the groom blindly buying a ring for the engagement can lead to a less-than-perfect reaction.”
5. Set a budget. “I know it doesn’t sound romantic but knowing what you can spend will go a long way in finding just the right ring,” Willard says. He also suggests talking to a professional (you could purposefully leave your credit and debit cards behind at the house, if you’re afraid of getting sucked into buying something).
“Setting up a meeting with a jeweler will help educate all those involved and lead to a better choice,” Willard advises anyone thinking of buying an engagement ring. “I say the same thing when it comes to wedding planning. You don’t know what you don’t know — meet with an expert and see the pros and cons without the stress of having to buy now.”
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Engagement Ring Cost Considerations: How Much to Spend and How to Save originally appeared on usnews.com
Update 11/09/20: This story was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.