Engagement Ring Prices – How to Buy the Right Ring at the Right Price

by Neal Frankle, CFP ®

Buying an engagement ring is one of the first steps you take to begin your married life. The price of the ring shouldn’t cause you to start that joint life out in the poor house.

When you get engaged, it’s pretty emotional. Even a jaded Pilgrim can admit that. But it’s important to be clear: while there is nothing more emotional than choosing the right mate, once that decision is made the emotions should stop. Your decision about how much money to spend on the wedding has to be made from an intellectual vantage point. Capiche?

Now, the people who sell weddings, wedding dresses and engagement rings know your emotions are at an all-time high and will try to use this knowledge to get right into your purse and wallet. Don’t let this happen to you.

I’ll never forget an old friend who asked me for financial advice. He was about to get married and wanted to spend $5,000 on a diamond ring for his bride-to-be. He wanted to know how best to pay for it: borrow money from his family or go into credit card debt.

I told him the best choice was “C” – none of the above. He didn’t like that. Maybe that’s why I haven’t seen him in 15 years.

Rule Number One – Never ever go into debt to finance a ring or wedding.

The stores want you to believe you should spend two months’ salary on the ring. It’s a wonderful benchmark…for them. How much you spend on your ring is not an expression of your love for your would-be-spouse. Sometimes an expensive ring is just your effort to manipulate what your bride thinks about you. Think Kobe Bryant. In that way, it’s not so altruistic…is it?

Would you rather buy a huge rock to impress your future wife and spend the next five years in credit card hell? Or would you rather start married life with no debt? Which is a greater gift to your marriage? You don’t need me to answer that one.

The Store Spiel

The salesperson will try to get you to agree that the ring is an expression of how much you love your spouse. I’ve already exposed that to be a big fat lie. When the salesman sees that this isn’t working, he’ll switch tracks and try to convince you that a diamond is a great investment. That is also untrue. A ring is hand furniture. And even if you do buy a ring that appreciates, don’t tell me you’re going to tell your wife that it’s time to sell the ring and buy oil futures when diamond prices are high and oil is low. Not going to happen. Compare the best diamond ring you can buy to your average mutual fund performance and tell me which is a good investment and which one isn’t.

Along those same lines, some salespeople try to get you to buy a ring you can’t pay for by pushing it as a way to build your credit. This is complete hogwash. Never spend too much money on anything for any reason. Period.

Before heading out to the stores, decide on a budget and stick to it. Don’t let the slick salespeople play games and try to get you out of your comfort zone. My favorite response to any salesperson who does that is to start speaking in a foreign language that doesn’t exist and then leave the store immediately. (Just kidding.)

Another tip: don’t surprise your fiancée. It’s her ring after all. Right? She’s your better half and any debt you incur (heaven forbid) is going to impact her. Make sure you both go to the stores to get a better picture of the right ring for your finances. How is she going to feel sitting home alone while you’re at your weekend job paying off the credit card debt you racked up on that ring?

A few years ago I was in the market for a new ring for Mrs. Pilgrim to celebrate 20 years of married bliss. When I walked into a shop, a young woman not only tried to get me to go large for a rock, she also wanted me to buy a ring for myself. (I don’t wear any jewelry other than a watch.)

She asked me where my ring was and when I told her I didn’t have one, she asked how the world was supposed to know that I was married.

I told her it didn’t matter what the world knows. I know I’m married and that’s all that matters.

If you know your soon-to-be-spouse loves you, do you really need a huge rock to prove it? If so, why? If you own a huge ring or bought a big expensive rock for your spouse, explain why it was a good decision…please…

 

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

dansbooks September 1, 2014 at 10:25 PM

This may sound weird, but I bought my fiancee a ring on EBay. It came from a jeweler in England who sells SI (slight imperfection) diamonds at seriously discounted prices. You can see the imperfections with a magnifying glass, but not without (they show up as tiny dark spots). The ring is 1.15 carats, SI2, H clarity, round, in a six-prong white gold setting. The price–I’m serious–was $785, including shipping and insurance. When I had it appraised at a jeweler in my area, it was appraised at $3,850. In the US, jewelers always try to sell perfect diamonds at astronomical prices (ones I looked at that were one carat, only 2-3 grades higher in clarity, and near perfect were in the $3-5,000 range).

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Aly in PA September 13, 2011 at 7:54 AM

My husband and I got engaged pretty young (I was 23 and fresh out of college), and he was working as a moderately successful musician. He bought a somewhat modest, yet unique and beautiful ring on Overstock for a little over $500. We never discussed the “four c’s” that the jewelers use to guilt you into overspending. The white gold has a slight defect–a pretty big scratch on the side (still noticeable only to me). I adore it. I know that it took my almost-starving (yet self sufficient and debt free with a savings account) gentleman friend a long time to save for it. Had he gone into debt and bought something that he couldn’t afford or spent his life savings, I wouldn’t be nearly as sentimental about the ring. I still get lots of compliments (it’s amazing what keeping the thing cleaned can do). In the end, when I added it to our insurance, it appraised for nearly three times what he paid. If he ever tried to “upgrade,” I’d be upset, there are so many more important things to spend our money on!

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Neal Frankle September 13, 2011 at 8:02 AM

I love it! Nice Aly…

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Miss T @ Prairie Eco-Thrifter May 30, 2011 at 9:08 AM

I think what the ring represents is the most important, not what size it is. And yes, stores will try to persuade you to buy the biggest rock they have.

We had our rings designed and custom made so we were able to chose the metal, the size of the stone and the design. Our rings were high quality, not over the top and very reasonably priced. In fact, despite being custom they cost less than what the ones in the store did.

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Mike May 29, 2011 at 10:15 AM

On this subject you can never consider a diamond an investment as diamonds are a artificial market with 1 or 2 players holding all the inventory setting prices. this is why you heard so much about conflict diamonds becuase they were lowering the artificial price.

But on topic. I agree never pay with credit I researched rings diamonds etc. for 3 months before making a purchase. The biggest no is going to the store diamonds are marked up 700% at a jewelery store. I bought a certified diamond and setting from an online wholesaler and had it reappraised on delivery. appraised at $9600 payed a little over $3000 saved $6000 on the ring. this is really the only way to by diamonds.
Everyone was happy. I bought a ring that is appraised at 2 months salary but I got to be cheap(insert smart) and save some money.

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Justin May 27, 2011 at 11:39 AM

Ill tell you another way not to get soaked…go outside the comfort zone, take your budget for a ring.

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Flaneuse in DC May 26, 2011 at 12:32 PM

It seems to me that the original idea of a wedding ring was yes, to show the world you are married and your spouse is “spoken for”. A man giving a woman an *expensive* ring was supposed to signify not the extent of his love, but the extent of his financial capacity — that he Has Means and will be a good provider, preferably with good taste. If you drill down, all of this presumes he was paying cash; otherwise, he clearly does NOT have the means. Much of these values are from a time when a man was the sole provider and could be expected to support a family on one paycheck. Ah innocence!
As a contemporary professional (if not high earning) woman, I still like the idea of receiving a ring. It doesn’t have to be expensive or large — but then, I prefer subtlety over ostentation. For symbolism’s sake, I do have some preference that the materials be real — real gold, for example, and not a coated cheap metal, to symbolize that our love is durable and lasting. I’d want any diamond to be certified “conflict free” (Google it) but I’d be okay with any precious or semiprecious stone. (I’m ambivalent about cubic zirconia; it’s hard to feel romantic about something that was manufactured in a lab, so I’d likely prefer a tiny real diamond over a bigger synthetic one). Though you didn’t directly suggest it, I rather like the idea of younger or lower-earning couples buying a simple ring knowing you may be able to “upgrade” at a later anniversary as your means make possible. But would the new ring ever hold the delicacy and romance of the original?

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Neal Frankle May 26, 2011 at 7:17 PM

The upgrade idea is a good one. Thanks for suggesting it. I agree completely.

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Meredith May 26, 2011 at 12:31 PM

My sister recently got engaged and is, too, blinded by her emotions…did I mention she’s depending on the salary of her fiance alone to pay for the wedding?

I’m forwarding this post to her as I type this!

Meredith @ Deals.com

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Neal Frankle May 26, 2011 at 7:16 PM

Meredith, I hope the post gets her to consider all these issues.

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