If you think you've noticed a spike in engagement announcements on social media, you're not going crazy. "Engagement season" is upon us. A full 40% of all marriage proposals take place between Thanksgiving and Valentine's Day, according to WeddingWire's 2019 Newlywed Report, which surveyed over 18,000 newlyweds for the year.
The national average cost of an engagement ring is currently $5,900, according to the wedding website The Knot.
But you don't have to let financial pressure to overspend ruin a happy occasion. The idea that anyone is expected to spend as much as they make in a few months on an engagement ring is just a ploy, says Kim Forrest, senior editor at WeddingWire: "The three months' salary rule is really just a marketing campaign created by jewelry companies in the early 1980s — not an actual 'rule.'"
"There's no use starting your marriage in massive debt. You should spend what makes sense for your lifestyle and budget," says Shelley Brown, senior fashion and beauty editor at The Knot.
When you're figuring out how much to spend on an engagement ring, consider your income, other expenses such as student loans, and the cost of your future wedding. Before spending thousands of dollars, here are four things to consider to make sure you're getting a great ring at a great price.
Before you spend on a new ring, consult with your family. If you're lucky, there might be a precious stone that belonged to a loved one that you can repurpose. Not only will using a stone that belonged to, say, your grandmother, save you money, but it will also have intrinsic value.
"Repurposing allows a special opportunity to give someone you love a piece of treasure that is handed down from generation to generation," says Brenda Harwick, senior manager of instruction at Gemological Institute of America.
The savings can be substantial: On average, most jewelers are able to reset a diamond for around $300, according to WeddingWire. You'll still want to shop around, though, and see how much a few jewelers charge for resetting to make sure you're getting the best price.
Keeping it simple when repurposing is the best way to keep costs down, says Brown. "The center stone will make up the bulk of the total cost of your ring, so resetting an existing stone is usually the most budget-friendly option. The cost of repurposing a ring is entirely dependent on the setting you want."
"A family heirloom ring can be a more cost-effective choice than buying a new ring — but it all depends on how much you plan to do with the stone. Placing a family diamond on a simple band won't cost a ton, but adding a setting covered with gems might," Forrest says.
Before you start shopping, study up on diamond basics so you can make sure you're getting the best bang for your buck — otherwise known as the four Cs, Forrest suggests. The four Cs are cut, clarity, color, and carat.
It may surprise you to learn what people value most in rings, says Forrest. "We found that size was one of the least important features of an engagement ring, according to the person on the receiving end of the engagement ring. People seem to care far more about a ring's style, setting, and cut than how big the diamond or main stone is."
It can be helpful to consult an unbiased expert, like a nonprofit dedicated to jewelry art. You'll also want to get a diamond grading report, which assesses and ranks the four Cs to help you determine the ring's value.
"When visually comparing diamonds, you can determine the combination of qualities you find most appealing. A GIA diamond grading report is invaluable when choosing a diamond, because it provides an independent and unbiased assessment of the 4Cs and discloses whether the diamond has been treated to improve its color and/or clarity," says Harwick.
WeddingWire found that 30% of engagement rings weren't diamonds. Alternative stones are gaining in popularity.
If you want a stone that looks like a diamond for a fraction of the cost, consider lab grown diamonds, moissanite, and white sapphires. Depending on the stone and setting you pick, you could save 90% compared to a similar sized diamond.
There are also options for couples looking for stones that don't resemble diamonds. "Morganite, a pink gemstone, is gaining popularity not only because it's more affordable than many diamonds. It also has a distinct color that many love," Forrest says.
The choices don't stop there. "Lately, gorgeous, colored gems are having a major moment. Between emeralds, rubies, and sapphires, the alternative options are endless and less expensive — so you'll be able to afford a larger rock. If you're really trying to save money, stunning stones like amethyst, topaz and garnet are as cost efficient as they are lustrous. And if you still want to include diamonds somehow, simply opt for a band with smaller ones surrounding the setting," says Brown.
A perfect, colorless one-carat diamond can still set you back nearly $10,000, while a nearly flawless one-carat moissanite gem costs less than $1,000. And the technology is so advanced that even some experts have trouble distinguishing moissanite stones from natural diamonds.
Some jewelry stores offer zero interest financing for engagement rings, but beware of the terms and conditions. Some jewelers who offer zero APR require a minimum purchase of anywhere from $2,000 to $4,000, and if you miss a payment, the fees can reach up to 24%.
Instead of financing a ring at all, you can save big by choosing a mom-and-pop jeweler instead of a national retailer, says Justin Engle, a senior associate at Howard Engle, a family-owned diamond company in New York City. "We have lower overhead than a nationwide retailer allowing us to work on smaller margins. Being that we are a wholesaler we are buying the diamonds for less than a nationwide retailer allowing us to pass those savings along," he explains.
That can be key, given all of the other expenses that come with getting hitched. "Set a budget and stick to it and save rather than borrow if you can help it. It's also a good idea to spend judiciously and leave as much of a safety cushion as possible for all of the things to come (your actual wedding, your honeymoon, buying a home) later on," Brown explains.
Shopping for an engagement ring with your partner can lead to a more cost-effective purchase. "While it takes away some of the element of surprise, the proposer will know what his/her partner actually likes, and the couple can work together to find an engagement ring that's within budget," Forrest says.
Overall, "we recommend using your best judgement when purchasing an engagement ring," Forrest says, "especially if you anticipate paying for the wedding without financial assistance from family members."
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