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How Much Should You Spend on an Engagement Ring?

When my husband and I decided to marry [3], neither of us was really excited about spending a large amount of money on an engagement ring. I had a friend whose family was in jewelry wholesale, and my parents knew an old jeweler. We got a great deal on an engagement ring (which was actually an anniversary band), and we were able to have it verified by the jeweler.

The experience of speaking with “insiders” taught us that it’s common to see a 700% or 800% markup on jewelry — particularly diamond engagement rings [4]. As a result, we have been wary of going into a chain store for our jewelry needs. And it’s a good thing we haven’t been caught up in expensive rings, since I’m on my third wedding band.

Rings tend to slip off my size 4 finger in cold weather. My first band was lost a little less than a year after we were married, since we didn’t get it custom; size 5 was the smallest option. Since that experience, we started ordering custom rings from a local jewelry artisan. My second wedding band lasted 10 years until this past Christmas Eve. The last I remember seeing it was while I was peeling potatoes. I remember thinking that I should take it off before it slipped, but I’m not sure that I did. In any case, I can’t find it.

There’s no replacing the band, since it was totally unique, made specifically for me. So we’re working with another artisan to design a different ring. When we’re done with this ring (which will have no diamonds, just small emeralds), our total for buying my wedding bands will be just over $1,000.

Society’s Rules of Thumb

I’ve read that a good rule of thumb for buying an engagement ring is to use two months’ salary. That’s a fairly expensive ring. And, when you consider the massive markup that comes with engagement rings bought in chain stores, you can be fairly certain that you are over-paying.

Another rule of thumb is this: Bigger is better. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case, either. You can get a big diamond ring [5] that doesn’t have a good cut. Indeed, you might find a big diamond to have only a “Fair” or “Good” cut, meaning that it might be big but it doesn’t have the same sparkle as one cut “Very Good” or “Ideal”. You might not see the same clarity, either, with a large ring. Many stores try to sell the “big” diamond, and count on customers not being educated.

You might be better off looking online at a reputable jeweler, or having something made by a local. You can also consider buying a loose diamond and then having the setting custom-made. While I’m not a jewelry expert, I have been fortunate enough to associate with jewelry professionals, and have them look at my choices before I make a purchase decision, and we end up with very good values in our jewelry selections.

What you spend on an engagement is ultimately up to you and your significant other. However, I don’t think there’s a need to spend a lot of money on something of good quality. What do you think? How much would you spend on an engagement ring?