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If diamonds are a girl's best friend (they are), what does that make an engagement ring? While you ponder that, we'll give you another tricky question—how much should one spend on an engagement ring in the first place? There are so many common myths and misconceptions about buying engagement rings that it's hard to really know how much to spend when you're shopping for your significant other.
While there's no one size fits all answer for ring etiquette, we tossed that question the way of our experts Taylor Lanore and Jennifer Gandia, who helped nail down a price estimate, debunked any widely held, cost-related engagement ring myths, and revealed easy ways to work within your wedding budget.
Meet the Expert
What's the Average Cost?
Brides' American Wedding Study found that the average couples spent on an engagement ring in 2020 was $3,756, which is less than the $7,829 average couples spent in 2018. However, some to-be-weds spend a lot less and some spend a whole lot more.
According to Lanore, it all depends entirely on your fiancé-to-be's financial situation. "Spend whatever you're comfortable with—there's no reason to go into debt," she says. "It also depends on your partner's preferences. If she (or he) wants something very minimal, it's hard to spend a lot. But if she (or he) wants a big stone, it's still very doable. There are ways to accomplish any look for any budget."
When it comes to buying the ring itself, prices are going to vary widely due to a number of factors: The size and quality of the center stone, any details (like a halo or stones set in the band), and the type of metal chosen—not to mention mark-ups that can come along with factors like a popular brand name.
Engagement Ring Cost Myths
Spending Three Month's Worth of Your Salary
It's become a suggested engagement ring rule that one should shell out about three months of their salary, but this is the most common (and outdated) engagement ring myth, according to Lanore (phew!). There's actually no set rule on how much you should spend on an engagement ring, and she works with all kinds of budgets.
Finding a Cheaper Diamond Online
Lanore says it's actually riskier to shop for diamonds online because there are far more low-quality stones to select from, which isn’t always obvious to the untrained eye. Instead, she recommends going straight to the source. "It’s best to consult the pros for your needs," says Lanore. "There are a lot of tricks to know for each diamond cut and shape—it is a science, after all. I highly recommend contacting a diamond consultant to assist in center stone selection." These experts can help you work with the "Four C's" to get the best possible diamond for your budget. If you can't find a local diamond consultant, there are plenty of companies you can use remotely.
How Much Is Too Much to Spend?
While there is truly no set price cap when it comes to buying an engagement ring, you may still be worried your partner will be tempted to go overboard. If you know the proposal's coming, be direct and slip your opinion into a casual conversation. Make up a story, and try something like, "You know, Jen was just telling me the other day that she really wishes her husband had spent less on the engagement ring so they could have had a bigger wedding budget to play with. I think some people are going a little crazy these days. Honestly, I don't think anyone should spend more than $[fill in the max you want them to spend here], don't you?"
You can also pass your concern on to your partner's family and friends, who will relay the message. But, at the end of the day, some people really just want to go above and beyond and splurge on the engagement ring, which is totally fine (and really sweet) as long as they have the means to do so.
How to Cut Engagement Ring Costs
If you're working within a budget, you can still treat your SO to the ring of their dreams thanks to a few engagement ring shopping hacks.
Ditch the Diamond
Diamonds are the most expensive part of an engagement ring, so you can save major dough by using a diamond alternative as the center stone. “Consider a white sapphire, which is hard enough to withstand daily wear and has a similar color,” says Gandia. “Other traditionally popular gemstones are blue sapphires, rubies, and emeralds. Depending on quality, these can be slightly less than a diamond, though truly rare and high-quality stones can sometimes cost more.”
Other nontraditional stones that are getting more popular by the minute? Green tourmaline, peachy-pink morganite, and ice blue aquamarine. “These are all great options for clients looking for a lower-priced alternative to a diamond that will still really shine,” says Gandia.
Know Your Settings
Keep in mind that certain settings can be expensive. Your future spouse may (understandably) be obsessed with Meghan Markle's three-stone engagement ring, but said setting can actually cost you a pretty penny and affect the size of the center stone. Instead, if you would rather focus the bulk of your budget on the ring's diamond, consider a classic solitaire setting to make the stone appear more prominent.
Manipulate the "Four Cs"
Working on the lower end of the color and clarity scales can go a long way in terms of majorly slashing engagement ring costs (especially with brilliant-cut diamonds) without sacrificing quality. As far as clarity goes, "as long as you can't see inclusions to the naked eye, you're in great shape," Lanore says. "Contrary to popular belief, clarity is independent of anything else and doesn't affect the brilliance of the stone." Lanore adds that the color of the diamond remains "purely personal preference," but, "if size is your biggest interest, consider working lower here if you're working with a budget."
Go the Antique Route
"Antique diamonds are truly magical for hiding color, and face up 2-3 colors whiter than their grade indicates," Lanore notes. "There's a real romance with these diamonds." All in all, to get the most bang for your buck and give your partner the engagement ring they really want (and deserve), Lanore advises paying close attention to their personal style or any hints they might be dropping. "What I've noticed is that if their partner doesn't request a specific design, a lot of guys (or gals) tend to pick a round brilliant diamond, which is the most expensive diamond per carat because of their difficulty to cut," says Lanore. Make sure you put your personal preferences aside to truly cater to your significant other. After all, she (or he) is the one who will be wearing it every day.