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How Much to Spend on an Engagement Ring

How Much to Spend on an Engagement Ring

Here's everything you need to know about picking out the most important jewelry of your life.
How much will the engagement ring cost?
How much will the engagement ring cost? Source: Getty Images

Love is for all seasons, but it turns out there is a popular time of year for popping the question: Four out of 10 couples get engaged between Thanksgiving and Valentine's Day, according to a recent report from WeddingWire.

While Dan Bolton, 27, didn't quite make the Valentine's Day deadline when he got engaged, he wasn't completely unprepared—he'd already bought the ring by the romantic holiday, and a month later he took his fiancée on a photoshoot throughout Charleston, South Carolina. For their last stop, they hit the beach at Botany Bay, a local preserve, where Bolton dropped to one knee and asked his girlfriend to marry him. For Bolton, the proposal wasn't just a relationship milestone, but a financial one as well.

"I began saving money the day we met—I just knew," said Bolton, who lives in Roseville, California. "We married in 2016 and have been happily married since."

Although Bolton started putting money aside for an engagement ring early, he wasn't sure how much he needed to spend. He ended up browsing his girlfriend's Pinterest account to determine her preferences. "It turns out, her ideal ring ranged between $7,000 and $9,000," Bolton said. "I was in college, so I worked three jobs on top of my schoolwork to save up the money needed."

How much does the average engagement ring cost?

The engagement ring is only one expense facing couples who are planning a wedding, but it's a significant one. And overall, people are spending more on rings than they used to. In 2017, the average engagement ring cost $6,351, according to TheKnot.com—up from $5,095 in 2011. (And the average time looking for one? Three and a half months.)

"Couples are getting married later in life," said Alicia Davis, vice president of merchandise for Shane Co., a privately owned jeweler. "More women have careers and they want to get established, and couples are buying the ring together, so it's a joint income purchase. They're budgeting for their dream ring together. That's probably the biggest change over the last 10 to 20 years."

How much to spend on an engagement ring

How much should an engagement ring cost? Since the 1980s, the advice has been that people should spend about two months' salary on the ring—but that was the result of a clever marketing campaign from De Beers.

"I don't think there's ever been a hard-and-fast rule that you'd need to spend that much," said Shelley Brown, fashion and beauty editor for The Knot. "It's actually really important to stick to a budget."

In other words, the answer to the question "How much should I spend on an engagement ring?" is what you can afford without going into debt. And consider that this ring doesn't have to last for 50 years, even if your marriage does. "Some jewelers have upgrade policies, so you can start with what you're comfortable with and upgrade the stone later," Davis said. "Some people want to spend a big chunk of their income, and some people want to spend what they're comfortable with, knowing as they move further along in their lives they can upgrade."

To the extent that you can discuss how much to spend on an engagement ring with your significant other, do so. Phil Risher, 28, and his wife didn't want to go into debt for an engagement ring, so they did some research and agreed to spend about $5,000. "I set a budget for myself," said Risher, who blogs about paying off debt at YoungAdultSurvivalGuide.com. "It took me 10 months to save the $5,000."

Ring trends are also making it easier to spend less without sacrificing your standards for a breathtaking piece of jewelry. Colored stones are a popular choice, for instance. "We can't seem to keep peach sapphires in stock," Davis said. "And we see people who want the lighter colors—light blue and morganite colors."

In general, millennials are interested in more customized rings, considering alternative center stones and colorful metals. "They're really not beholden to one kind of tradition," Brown said.

Gabriella, 30, who lives in New York City, chose an emerald set in a halo of diamonds for her ring. "It's so beautiful and unique, and I get compliments on it all the time," she said.

How to save on an engagement ring

There's not much wiggle room when it comes to the price of an engagement ring, as the value of the stone (or stones) makes up the lion's share of the value. An expensive diamond is an expensive diamond. However, you can still make some decisions to help lessen some of the ancillary expenses when it comes to buying an engagement ring.

Buy a loose stone. The most expensive aspect of any engagement ring is the center stone, Brown said. If you buy a loose stone, you'll generally get a bit of a discount, and you can then have a jeweler set it for you in the ring of your choosing.

Buy ‘shy.’ Buying slightly less than the carat you're seeking will give you the same look for less. "If you have your heart set on a 3-carat stone, buy one that's 2.8 carats," Brown said. "It will look visibly the same, but it will actually save you money."

Go with an alternative center stone. If a diamond isn't the look you're going for, you can choose another stone, such as pink sapphire or morganite. This will significantly lower the cost of your ring.

Consider a local jeweler or custom designer. Gabriella worked with Lindsey Scoggins, a custom engagement ring designer in Manhattan, to come up with a ring that fit her preferences. "She was really cognizant of staying within my budget," Gabriella said. Phil Risher, too, worked with a local jeweler to find something that worked. "They have less overhead, and they're not as salesy," Risher said.

Ask about a lab-grown diamond. Manufactured diamonds are usually offered at a slight discount compared to mined diamonds—although the difference probably isn't as great as you'd think. "It's still an expensive process," Brown said. "They're cheaper, but not incredibly cheaper."

Pick a simple setting. The less detailed your setting—and the fewer diamonds involved—the more you'll save overall.

Engagement ring financing

Experts don't recommend going into debt to purchase an engagement ring. "I wouldn't max out your credit card or buy something that's so far beyond your budget that you're paying it off for years," Brown said. "I don't think that's advisable."

If, however, you need a little short-term help, talk to your jeweler about financing options. Some jewelers offer deferred financing for some period of time (such as a year), so if you can pay off the ring within 12 months, you'll owe no interest. Be cautious of this method, however—if you miss your payoff deadline, you'll owe back interest for the entire period.

Another option: Take advantage of a 0% introductory interest offer on a credit card. But like jeweler financing, be wise in your timing—pay off the ring within the introductory period to avoid getting dinged with interest.

Do you need jewelry insurance?

While a ring would be covered by your homeowners insurance or renters insurance policy, most policies place a limit on jewelry coverage. If your policy limit isn't high enough to replace the ring if it's stolen, ask your insurer about a rider to cover it. You'll generally need an appraisal to determine the ring's replacement value. Expect to pay $10 to $20 for every $1,000 it would cost to replace your ring, according to TheKnot.com.

"We hear horror stories; anything can happen," Davis said. "We had a couple that lost it down the sewer in the street. This is a huge investment. We always recommend that people have it insured by their home insurance."

The only chart you need for engagement rings
The only chart you need for engagement rings