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How Much Should You Spend on an Engagement Ring?

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Last updated on January 27, 2022

It was 11 years ago when I knew I was going to propose to my girlfriend. We had been together for six years at that point, so marriage was the next natural step. I was confident she would say yes, but there was always a slight, unnerving possibility she would decline. The truth is, this uncertainty didn’t bother me as much as it probably should have. I was far more stressed out about how much to spend on what I wanted to be the perfect engagement ring!

As someone who was raised to be frugal, I was terrified by the prospect of making such a massive investment on what is, effectively, an ornament. And if you’re a complete engagement ring novice, then you may not realize that an engagement ring and a wedding ring are not the same things — a wedding ring will be another purchase entirely! I had heard the standard axiom that people spend three months’ salary on an engagement ring, which at the time worked out to roughly $12,000 for me. I love my wife (who, by the way, said yes), but there was no chance I was going to spend 25% of my income for the year on a rock.

Casting the social pressure aside, I looked at a few different factors to determine what was an appropriate amount for me personally to spend on an engagement ring.

My Financial Situation

Some people think it’s okay to go into debt when you get married, but I think that’s ridiculous. Why would I want to start the next chapter of my life in a financial hole?

When I decided to propose to my girlfriend, I was fortunate that I had a decent salary, no debt, and some savings, and I wanted to maintain that financial standing as much as possible as I entered into the married phase of my life. If I blew all of my savings on the engagement ring, where would I come up with the money to pay for the actual wedding itself? I much preferred to be debt free and I was sure my girlfriend agreed.

I’d also read that you’ll usually break even on your wedding since many people will give cash gifts when you get married. This seemed a little bit more reasonable, but I couldn’t depend on the uncertain generosity of others.

What Did My Partner Want?

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I had a figure in mind for how much I was comfortable spending, but marriage is a two-way street, and I had to be cognizant of my girlfriend’s values as well. Fortunately, I knew she was pretty modest and would not have expected a huge rock.

For many of us, reading our partner’s engagement ring expectations can be a tricky art. We value different characteristics in our soon-to-be spouses, and not all of us can verbalize their styles and tastes. But it’s easy to make relevant observations if you try to make it a habit.

Take a look at your partner: does he or she usually wear expensive jewellery? Have they previously talked, even casually, about what types of engagement rings they like? Do they like to compare jewellery with friends?

Once you really think about what your partner likes, it’s pretty easy to figure out how much to spend on an engagement ring. My girlfriend was definitely not trying to keep up with the Kardashians. She told me she would have been happy with an onion ring, since the engagement was a celebration of our relationship, not a celebration of jewellery.

Having said this, don’t be afraid to ask your partner what they would ideally want in an engagement ring — I’m talking down to the diamond. Do they care about a smaller diamond? The diamond shape? A lab-grown diamond versus a natural diamond? What about the precious metal — rose gold, white gold, or yellow gold?

If your partner truly does not care about receiving a diamond engagement ring, then purchasing a diamond ring alternative such as a gemstone can be a great idea for a centre stone. This not only can help you to save money, but it also gives you an opportunity to give your partner a beautiful ring that’s a little more unique. Who knew?

Now, if your partner has expensive taste, there’s nothing wrong with that. But if this is the case, you need to budget more for that ring and you’d better make sure you read up on the quality of diamonds and other materials before you make a purchase.

Deciding on an Actual Amount

After considering my girlfriend’s expectations, I took a long look at my financial situation — savings, earning potential, and projected expenses — and concluded that $6,000 was about the max I could afford to spend on an engagement ring. That’s half the amount that would be mathematically prescribed to me by the nonsensical ‘spend three months of your salary’ cliché.

There wasn’t a set formula that I came up with to get my engagement ring budget; I just knew that spending that much wouldn’t necessitate going into debt for major expenses in the future, such as paying for the actual wedding or a down payment for a home. That being said, if I had any outstanding consumer debt such as credit card debt or an auto loan, I may have been inclined to spend less on an engagement ring.

Think about it: if you’re paying an average of 19.99% in interest on your credit card bills or say 4.99% for an auto loan, you would be much better off paying down those debts instead of spending your money on an engagement ring. Perhaps it’s not very romantic to prioritize financial solvency over a symbol of love, but the numbers often speak for themselves.

That being said, I totally understand that sometimes you need to juggle your debt since you can’t always wait until you’re debt-free to become engaged. Try your best to pay off any outstanding, high-interest credit card debt first before you determine how much you’ll spend on the ring. Feeling the time crunch? There are a number of different ways to speed up the debt repayment process, including taking advantage of balance transfer deals.

Once you’ve paid off those debts, start putting aside 10% of your income to go toward the engagement ring. In an ideal world, this 10% will be on top of your other savings, but if your budget is tight, it’s okay to make your engagement ring your priority. Just don’t ignore all of your other savings completely.

If you’re debt-free and you believe your partner has higher expectations, then you might want to up your savings rate to 20% for the ring. After a year, you would have set aside 10%-20% of your income towards the ring, which gives you a good range to work with. Remember, you don’t need to spend the full amount you’ve set aside! There will be other expenses that come up once you’re engaged, such as the wedding itself.

As I mentioned, the “three months of your salary” rule is a myth when it comes to purchasing an engagement ring (unless that’s a number that’s doable for you, in which case, go ahead and buy that rock!). According to WeddingStats.org, the average engagement ring cost in Canada was $3,500 in 2021. This average amount is way below most people’s salary over the course of three months.

Can the Big Ring Purchase Wait Until You’ve Saved More?

Whether or not the “real” ring can wait until you’ve saved up more money is a common question. And the answer comes down to a few factors:

  • how your partner will feel about a smaller stone and an overall less expensive ring;
  • giving yourself a reasonable timeline to make that big ring purchase; and
  • whether you will truly commit to your plan.

It’s important to keep in mind that your fiance’s friends and family will be asking to see the engagement ring after the proposal, and odds are, your partner is going to want to show it off. For that reason alone, it’s probably best to wait.

When Reality Sets In

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Though you may have a budget in mind based on what you’ve managed to save, nothing really prepares you for the overwhelming moment in which you step into a store and start looking at the actual rocks.

The first place I went to was the big mall in my city, which had a Maison Birks, arguably the most prestigious jewellery brand in Canada. I quickly realized that my $6,000 wouldn’t go very far there. Fortunately, there were many other stores with more reasonable options, but I wasn’t able to find the perfect ring to fit my girlfriend’s taste.

I looked at Blue Nile and James Allen, as they’re online retailers that offer engagement rings at a much lower price compared to brick-and-mortar retail stores. The quality of their diamond engagement rings is just as good as what you would find in a mall, but since they don’t have the overhead costs of maintaining a physical store, their costs are much lower and the savings are passed onto consumers. Though these online retailers had great prices, I still didn’t see something that was the right fit.

Another idea is, of course, going engagement ring shopping together. While this may seem like a foreign concept to those who prefer the more traditional route, some couples may prefer to make this decision together. After all, the goal is that your partner will be wearing this piece of jewellery for the rest of their life — why shouldn’t they have a say in what it looks like?

How It Went Down

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Since I planned to propose in Hong Kong, and I knew there were plenty of jewellery stores there, I decided to purchase a “placeholder” ring at home which was only a few hundred dollars. Once we arrived overseas, I proposed the first night and my new fiancée was able to pick out her own ring.

In the end, we spent about CAD$4,600 on the engagement ring, which included the proposal ring. Had we bought the same ring in Canada, the total cost would have likely been closer to $7,000. This “discounted” price was unplanned, but a nice bonus for us.

We’ve been married for eight years now. Our engagement story and the ring itself is indeed special for us, but in the grand scheme of things, the cost of the actual ring is insignificant compared to the value we place on our relationship as a couple and the love in our growing family.

How much to spend on an engagement ring requires a bit of thought, planning and in our case, luck. My overarching advice? Find a number that you’re comfortable with, which won’t cause you to go into debt.

Good luck with the proposal!

Author Bio

Barry Choi
Barry Choi is a personal finance and travel expert at MoneyWeHave.com. He has been quoted by media in Canada and the United States, including The Financial Post, The Toronto Star, Business Insider, The Globe and Mail, and has appeared on HuffPost Live. You can follow him on Twitter: @barrychoi

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