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How To Choose And Pay For An Engagement Ring

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Buying an engagement ring is a big step. Don't go broke doing it

When it’s time for you to commit to someone for the rest of your life, you want to commemorate your love with something special. Engagement rings are the go-to here in the US, but if you’ve ever shopped around for a piece of jewelry, you know how expensive this stuff can get.

I nearly said “no” to an engagement ring altogether because of the huge sticker price. To add insult to injury, my husband and I were trying to pay for rings, a wedding, and a honeymoon when we were single, early in our careers, and saddled with debt. When the chips are stacked against you, it can be tough saving up for all of the nice things that come with getting married.

Unless you have a family heirloom, you’re probably not getting an engagement ring for free. However, when you know how to shop smart and follow a few tricks for saving for a ring, you’ll start your marriage on the right foot—and without the debt.

It takes an average of 3 months to shop for an engagement ring, so jumpstart your search right now. Follow these tips to shop smarter for the right ring and save up for the big purchase.

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8 Tips for Better Ring Shopping

Okay, here’s the deal: the average ring budget in the US is a whopping $7,400. If you were caught up in the romance of buying a ring, it flies out the window the second you see the price tag.

It’s so easy to let your emotions take the best of you when you’re buying an engagement ring. The result? You’ll buy an awesome-looking ring that puts you and your future spouse in debt. I’m sure you don’t want that, right?

My husband and I were able to buy both of our rings for $2,000, which is well under the $7,400 average. Follow these 8 tips to shop smarter when you’re looking for an engagement ring.

1. Tell Your Family

Engagement rings are built to last, right? It’s not unusual for families to pass engagement rings from generation to generation. If you think you or your sweetheart’s family has heirloom jewelry, ask about it!

You can use the family jewelry as-is or, with your family’s blessing, you can reuse the stones in a new setting. You’ll spend a little money modernizing the old jewelry, but this is a great way to save on costs while building a beautiful, meaningful ring.

2. Check Out Different Sellers

Always, always, always shop around. This lets you compare prices, warranties, and quality before committing.

For example, I found that most national jewelry chains, like Kay, had more inflated prices than local stores.

Look at different sellers to find the best ring. That might mean buying from:

  • Online stores: Online shopping makes it easy to compare different rings. The big downside is that you can’t see the rings in person. Look at the 360-degree images online before you buy. You should also check that they offer secure shipping and no-hassle returns. Every ring should include grading by the GIA, AGL, or EGL so you know exactly what you’re buying.
  • Pawn shops: I know pawn shop jewelry gets a bad reputation, but come on! It’s super cheap and often very nice jewelry. Take it to a jeweler to clean it properly before you propose and no one will know the difference.
  • Big-name jewelers: Jarrod and Kay are big jewelry companies, which means if you have a warranty with them, they’ll likely still be in business 10 years from now to honor the warranty. They often offer free ring cleaning for life, which is nice. The downside is that their prices are usually higher and you have to wait for them to order the ring.
  • Local jewelers: I bought my ring from a local jewelry store for $1,600, which was a steal. These shops are eager to make a sale and it’s easier to negotiate here. Their pieces are often more unique than what you’ll find at a big-box store, so that’s a plus.
  • Wholesalers: Instead of buying a ring from a jeweler, you can purchase a diamond wholesale. This is usually cheaper because you’re cutting out the middleman. However, you’ll still need to pay to have the ring set with the diamond, so keep that in mind!

3. Choose Lab-grown Versus Natural

You’ll have your choice between natural diamonds (AKA mined diamonds) or lab-grown diamonds.

Although the two types of diamonds look identical, it comes down to your personal preference. Mined diamonds come with environmental and social issues that lab-grown diamonds don’t have.

The thing is, lab-grown diamonds can be up to 25% more expensive than natural diamonds.

If you’re purely concerned with cost, you might have better luck with a natural diamond. Just make sure it’s ethically sourced and conflict-free.

4. Pick a Setting

The setting is how a jeweler places the diamond or gem in a ring. Since 86% of brides care about the ring design the most, the setting is an important decision!

Depending on the setting, you can make a cheaper stone look more expensive (without the price tag).

If you opt for a more minimal setting, you’re using less metal. That means you’re spending less money, which is nice! A minimalist prong setting is classic, more affordable, and easy to clean.

5. Use Cheaper Metal

I adore the look of platinum rings, but have you seen the price of platinum lately? It’s wildly expensive.

Since an engagement ring should last a lifetime, you want to choose a durable, high-quality metal. Platinum is great, but the cost makes platinum rings cost-prohibitive for plenty of folks.

Silver is more in fashion these days and it’s cheaper, but that’s because it tarnishes. If you don’t want your future spouse to polish their ring every week, go with white gold instead.

White gold has the same look as silver or platinum, but with a lower cost and less maintenance. White gold engagement rings do require replating every 5 – 10 years, though so keep that in mind.

6. Know Which of the Four C’s Matter

The four Cs (color, clarity, cut, and carat weight) affect the value of every diamond you see.

Jewelers will try to push you to buy the absolute best diamonds in every category, but let’s be honest: unless your future fiance is looking at the diamond under a microscope, they probably don’t care about minor imperfections.

When you’re trying to buy a ring on a budget, you can comfortably compromise on color and clarity. However, cut and carat weight are pretty important.

If a diamond has flaws, it’s priced more affordably. As long as the diamond is reasonably clear to the naked eye, go for a less-perfect diamond.

With a good cut by an experienced jeweler, you can make a lower-quality diamond sparkle and shine like it’s a million bucks. A round cut is ideal because it makes the diamond shine the most, but princess cuts are also popular.

7. Always Negotiate

Buying an engagement ring is like buying a car: almost everything is negotiable. I will say it’s easier to negotiate when you shop at a small, independent jeweler, but national chains will sometimes haggle, too.

In our case, we were able to knock $200 off my husband’s ring by paying in cash. Never accept sticker price when shopping for an engagement ring; every penny counts.

8. Ask for Opinions

My husband was (rightfully) terrified to buy my engagement ring without guidance. What if he bought an “ugly” ring? He was terrified of making the wrong decision, the poor thing.

If you’re unsure if your sweetheart likes the ring you’ve chosen, don’t be afraid to ask for other people’s opinions before you buy it.

My husband and I bought rings together, but if you want it to be a surprise, call your bae’s mom, siblings, or friends for a second opinion. They’re going to wear this ring for the rest of their lives, so a little recon doesn’t hurt!

Buying an Engagement ring can be a fun and scary time

How to Save for an Engagement Ring

At this point, your head is probably spinning. When my husband and I started shopping for wedding rings, we nearly had a heart attack after seeing the cost! Since 70% of couples have existing debt when they shop for rings, you’re probably trying to look for smarter ways to finance your rings.

You can’t get the ring for free (sorry), but you can take the sting out of the bill by following these 4 engagement ring saving tips.

1. Set a Budget and Stick to It

You need to have a vague understanding of gem quality and setting to estimate your engagement ring budget. Sure, $7,400 is the national average, but that might be too high for your situation.

Customize your budget to fit your local prices and your potential fiance’s preferences.

Don’t let a $10,000 ring trick you! You can buy a beautiful, durable ring for way less money. You don’t need to spend 1 – 3 months of your salary, either. It’s more important to buy a ring your fiance will love than the sticker price itself.

Whatever you do, set a budget and stick to it. The ring of your dreams can quickly become the ring of your nightmares once the bill comes.

2. Automate Your Savings

Once you know how much you want to spend on a ring, I recommend saving enough cash to pay for it out of pocket.

Divide your total ring budget by the number of months you’re willing to wait before proposing. For example, to save $1,500 for a ring over 3 months, you need to save $500 a month.

Aside from cutting expenses, you can also boost your ring savings with round-up apps. These tools round up all your purchases to the nearest dollar, transferring the difference to your savings account.

It’s a great way to save extra money without feeling the hurt in your budget.

3. Put it On a Credit Card

I don’t love the idea of paying for an engagement ring with a credit card, but it’s a popular option. You can do this, but you need to play smart: several jewelry stores offered us financing with a horrifying 24% APR.

High interest rates will destroy you. If you go with a store credit card, make sure it offers a 0% APR promotional period and always pay it off well before the end of the promotional period.

If you’re going to buy a ring on a credit card, I recommend going with a cashback credit card with a 0% APR promotional period. This way, you at least get an added benefit of paying for an engagement ring with a credit card.

4. Pay in Cash

If I’m honest, paying in cash is the way to go. You might have to put off your engagement or wedding for a few months, but isn’t it worth starting your marriage without the extra debt?

My husband and I saved up to buy our rings with cash. We also were lucky enough to have help from generous family members, which significantly sped up our wedding date (thanks guys!).

Cash is awesome because it helps you avoid debt but it’s also a huge bargaining chip. Jewelers love getting cash in hand, so you might be able to save a few hundred bucks when you negotiate with cash.

The Bottom Line

Sure, you could be part of the 4% of couples who choose not to exchange wedding rings, but if you’ve always pined for a nice engagement ring, you can make it happen.

Engagement rings are an important purchase; they’re a symbolic representation of your love and commitment. You can choose a better ring by:

  • Working with your family heirlooms (if you have them).
  • Shopping around.
  • Carefully selecting gems, settings, and metals.
  • Negotiating on cost.
  • Shopping together or asking for outside opinions.

If you’re reeling over the sticker shock, you can pay for engagement rings by:

  • Setting an estimated budget and sticking to it.
  • Automating your ring savings.
  • Paying for it with a cashback credit card.
  • Paying in cash and negotiating.

Six years in, my husband and I love our engagement and wedding rings.

I’m glad we didn’t let the glitz and glamor of a wedding get in the way of financial good sense. Balance your need for romance with smart money moves to choose a ring that will last a lifetime—without a lifetime of bills.

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Written by Makenzi Wood

Kenzi is a writer obsessed with frugal living. She's a reformed shopaholic who's now happily debt-free and working towards FIRE.

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