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How much should you spend on an engagement ring?

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Here’s one of my favorite money and gender questions: How much should someone spend on an engagement ring?

Out of curiosity, I once asked this at the dinner table, and my entire family put their forks down and stared at me. Not good.

I like this question because it highlights the gap between rational answers and emotional responses.

Whenever people talk about engagement rings on the internet, here is exactly what happens:

PERSON 1: “Hey guys! I’m going to get engaged to my girlfriend next month. How much should I spend on the engagement ring?”
PERSON 2: “Ugh! What a heteronormative paternalistic anachronism.”
PERSON 3: “I spent $42 on my engagement ring and we’ve been married 58 years.”
PERSON 4: “Forget diamonds. They’re all stained with the blood of exploited people. What about Mossanite/CZ?”
PERSON 5: “Any girl who *expects* an engagement ring is a gold digger! You need to break up with her now. You’re welcome.”

PERSON 1: (Commits suicide at the stupidity of the internet)

Before you answer, I’d like you to consider a few key points from this article: “Have You Ever Tried To Sell A Diamond?” This is the single-most interesting article I have ever read. Learn how diamond companies used highly sophisticated marketing and distribution to position diamonds as a luxury good, and how they have changed consumer perceptions over time.

Questions to ask before you leave a comment below:

  • Does how much to spend on an engagement ring depend how on much the guy makes? Or the woman?
  • What if the woman makes more than the guy?
  • How does Conscious Spending play into this purchase?
  • Do women want an engagement ring? Why or why not?
  • How does culture play into the decision of how much to spend on an engagement ring?
  • Does this change for same-sex couples?

Answers that will not be accepted because they are stupid:

  • “The divorce rate is 50% for everyone! Save your money!” (No, it’s really not.)
  • “This is ridiculous because it’s all anecdotes/stories. I want PEER-REVIEWED RESEARCH!!” (Attention, ass: There is no peer-reviewed research on how much you should spend on an engagement ring. That’s because this is water-cooler discussion, which is a valuable addition to quantitative data.)
  • “I hate you Ramit because you assume that only men buy women engagement rings and you are making all kinds of assumptions! Men and women are all different!” (First, this is obvious, but even within a heterogeneous group, there are still patterns. Second, if you’d like to offer up another view that applies to more than 10% of my readers, I am very open to it. However, edge cases of aboriginal nomads getting married on a crocodile farm in Malaysia (“THEY don’t buy engagement rings!”) do not count. We’re talking stories and averages, people.)

So, the QUESTION: How much should a man spend on an engagement ring?

Leave your comments below.

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  1. I would say $2500. Anything more and it seems over the top. Anything less and you need to get your finances in order before getting married. Oh, my husband didn’t ask, he just bought it…. after asking my dad’s permission.

    • Some people may never be able to afford a $2500 piece of jewelry. (Or at least may have priorities that make a $2500 piece of jewelry unaffordable). Does that mean those people should never get married?

    • My spouse spent $1200, and I thought that was excessive (though appreciated it!)

    • I think it’s a horrible way to spend money, no matter how much of it you have. Spending $2500 on a little pretty rock would have been laughed at before people started mindlessly following the famous de beers ad campaign back in the 40s.

    • EPIC first comment. It’s astonishing how you assume $2500 is a good fixed price for every single person in every area of the US. Somehow you manage to take it further and assume everyone that can’t afford a $2500 ring (and I stress “EVERYONE” as I defined above) needs to “get their finances in order.” Thanks for the laugh. XD

  2. Personally, I believe it is whatever you want to afford. If you only making 60k a year, but want to buy a ring that is 8k, that is a choice you make and it will take you longer to save for it. I think as long as you can pay cash for it and you buy a rider for your insurance to cover it, you can buy as big as a ring as you want. This same question about cost of rings can be switched and rewritten as “how much should one spend on a car/clothes/house/etc.” and the answer really isn’t much different. If you can afford it, I think it is up to the individual on what is important and that should dictate how much they spend.

    • I agree with Chris H: whatever you can afford. My husband and I shopped for my ring together (I only wear 1 ring and it’s engagement-style, not a wedding band), and I talked him out of a flashier one for something that fit our budget and lifestyle. Money was tight then, and was about to become tighter so we have to be reasonable. My ring cost $1500 (in 2008). I love my ring and the commitment it symbolizes, and never take it off–unless I’m doing something like making meatballs or kneading bread dough. Every so often I think it would be nice to have another ring/more diamonds glittering on my fingers, but that’s just ego. I’d really rather have the money in the bank than on my fingers.

      I like the tradition of some European countries: the engagement ring and the wedding ring are the same ring (usually a plain gold band). When engaged, it’s worn on the ring-finger of the right hand; when married, it’s worn on the ring-finger of the left hand.

    • “This same question about cost of rings can be switched and rewritten as “how much should one spend on a car/clothes/house/etc.” and the answer really isn’t much different. ”

      Actually, the big difference in this question is that it deals more specifically with a romantic relationship between man and woman. The other material things are more of an individual thing.

  3. I think there’s two main factors:
    -What does your significant other expect
    -What can you afford

    If you don’t know what your significant other expects, have a conversation about it. Seriously. It doesn’t mean you have to go ring shopping together, but if you’ve talked about wanting to get married in the future, s/he has thought about this. In my case, my grandmother’s engagement ring was up for grabs in the family, and I really wanted it. My now-husband got the ring from my mom and spent a few hundred dollars on a new setting for the diamond because the ring itself was falling apart. We were seniors in college and that was probably literally all the money he had at the time (I am the saver, he is the spender). Given that once we were engaged the majority of my savings went toward paying his grad school, it would have been ridiculous for him to go into debt buying me a ring because I would have been the one paying off the debt.

    So if your significant other wants a basic ring with no stones, better to know that than to spend a lot of money on a more expensive ring s/he may not like anyway. And if your significant other expects a ring with five diamonds on it, then you have to look at whether you can afford a ring like that (and want to spend that much money on a ring). If there’s a big mismatch in your s.o.’s expectations and your financial ability, that’s a really good conversation to have NOW, before getting engaged, because it may have ramifications for the future.

    • I think the two points you mentioned here are key. My wife had a lot of expectations bottled up around her engagement ring, and I think that is true for a lot of women:

      – Finally receiving a gift they have likely anticipated their whole lives (and have probably already envisioned very specifically)

      – May wear it for the remaining duration of their lives–what will others think of it when she announces engagement/what will they think in thirty years

      – From what I’ve seen, for some women the price, size, quality, cut, number of stones, setting, etc. compared with the fiancee’s salary serves as a barometer for how strongly he actually cares about her (and definitely how much other women THINK he cares about her)

      In my situation, my fiancee and I had a very open dialog about the ring. I wasn’t making a lot of money at the time, and I’m generally extremely frugal, so I really needed to determine how much each of those expectations mattered to her.

      With engagement rings, price definitely does not determine quality, but could determine fulfillment of expectations. It also turned out that she had some very specific ideas about what she wanted–so specific, that I wanted her to go with me to help pick out a few ring styles.

      I nearly blew it by purchasing one she liked from a chain jeweler at the mall, but decided at the last minute to hold off. A few weeks later, we worked with a local jeweler to pick out a diamond and design a custom setting.

      I ended up spending a lot more than 2.5 months salary, but I can honestly testify that it was worth every penny–way more than our expensive wedding. Unlike a lot of things we buy, this one has really seemed to continue to make her happy. The key was understanding exactly what her expectations were, and determining where I could involve her to ensure they were fulfilled.

    • Meghan Williams Link to this comment

      Jessica and Jeff have got it: the most important thing is getting everyone’s expectations lined up. That means what does the woman want in the one piece of jewelry she’s assuming she’s going to wear every day for the rest of her life? What kind of ring did the man envision buying his bride to be? So as romantic as the idea of a surprise ring is, its much better to have very direct conversations before hand.

      After all, this is the first purchase of their lives together, so it deserve some attention.

    • Exactly this.

      We bought rings designed the way we wanted them to look. They were inexpensive compared to most general “rules” about ring costs. But they are exactly what we wanted.

      A fiance who wants to be surprised by her ring is a more troublesome issue to solve.

    • I totally agree with you, Jessica. And my son did the same thing with my mother’s diamond for his sweetheart. They were juniors in college. Two years later, they have automated their money (thanks to the IWTYTBR book I gave them) and due to their decision to continue living in their tiny student apartment even after he got a great job, they have saved enough for a down payment on a great house. I am thrilled to have a son and daughter-in-law who (IMHO) have their priorities correct.

    • Wish there was a “like” option for these comments. I think Jeff Haines does a really good job of explaining the myriad of factors that goes into getting a ring.

  4. The general rule of thumb is that you should spend 2.5x your monthly salary on a ring. But it really depends on a lot of variables. It depends on the (possible) wife’s expectations, your actual financial situation, what you would be comfortable with, amond others. And when I say, ‘what you would be comfortable with’, it may be that you would want to give a bigger ring than you ideally should for various reasons. Myself, I couldn’t see spending a ton of money on a ring, I’d rather give something simple and elegant and spending more money on a down payment for a house or something.

    • The 2.5 rule is total BS IMHO. It’s a guideline set by the diamond marketers. 2.5 MONTHS salary for a ring? That’s like a car…but for a ring.

      I spent less than .5 months salary on a ring. I found a jewelry design I really liked and had it custom designed based on an idea I had specific to our relationship so that it was very meaningful (this counted WAY more than stock-but-expensive in my case, and I suspect in many cases thought trumps dollars), went with a red stone instead of a diamond, had a platinum setting…all without breaking the bank. The ring is killer. Granted, I make a fair amount of money so the .5 months goes a decent ways, but if I made less I would have compromised on the metal (example: my wedding ring is titanium, so it’s light and indestructible, cost only $40, is and awesome), or found another designer or something. But with Etsy these days you can be very, very creative.

      I think a much more healthy guideline is, “as much as needed to make her happy,” which for most people will probably be much less than 2.5 MONTHS salary, especially, as Ramit talks about, if you get into the head of your customer (e.g. the girl) and get some tailored to make her happy vs. something based on some guideline that doesn’t apply to her. If you’re going to propose this shouldn’t be too hard a thing to do!

  5. Wow. The first few responses are excellent, thoughtful comments. I am impressed.

    • I completely agree with Jeff’s response. Having an open dialogue from the get-go and really talking about those expectations and what you can afford is so important, not just with purchasing a ring, but with any big ticket purchase. I told my (now) husband exactly what I had wanted (general guidelines) and he did all the research and figured out what fit into his budget. He did an amazing job picking out my ring, based on a few helpful guidelines from me, and I couldn’t be happier! Every single time I look down at my engagement ring, it reminds me of how much time and effort he put into finding the perfect ring for me! That in and of itself is priceless!

  6. In keeping with the spirit of I Will Teach… here are the HONEST guidelines for what a man should spend on an engagement ring (based on the criteria I used when buying one):

    1. Enough to buy a ring that is about as big and shiny as her friends’ rings;
    2. About 50% more than you can genuinely afford.

    If you’re tempted to use other criteria: think again.

    (The exception to that is if you have a very nice family heirloom that you can give as an engagement ring. Emotional AND thrifty, which is a rare combo.)

    • Hamed I totally agree! I didn’t have any preconceived notions of rings or diamonds when I got engaged so the “about the same as her friends have” was something my husband used in his selection. I always liked emeralds was all I told my husband. We had moderately high incomes at the time but are both working full time in an industry where we can expect them to grow over time so stretching to about 50% more than you can genuinely afford and incurring some debt for the engagement ring was ok for us. God willing it will be with our family for generations, just like the Amish made hutch that we got this year on the 5 year anniversary of our marriage.

    • Hamed,

      I worry about the answer that you have given because I see these things daily. I live close to 2 big universities and there are jewelry shops EVERYWHERE! My wife and I just celebrated our 6th anniversary and we spent $800 on her wedding set.

      I have a young friend getting married next month, and despite any council I could share with him he purchased a $4500 wedding set and a matching $2200 band for himself. He did thins because that was her expectation to be able to compete with her friends in sparkle and size.

      This would be fine if he had a job. They are both college students and big diamonds are what all of the little girls on campus want. He justified that it was affordable because they were on sale, and they could afford the monthly payments.

      Just my thoughts – all of these young women expect to be treated like a princess regardless of the consequences.

    • I agree with Hamed and I did the same thing. I wanted to get something that made her stand out to everyone else the way she stands out to me (man, that’s super corny – another crass way to say it is “I wanted her to have the biggest rock in the room”). In the end, though, the only reason I went out of my budget was because I was able to get 0% financing and pay it off before that expired. However, I would tweak #2 slightly:

      2) About 50% more than you were willing to spend, but not more than you can genuinely afford.

      For instance: I went in there with a number in mind, but ended up going above and beyond and as a result of that I had to sacrifice other purchases that I wanted to make.

  7. When we got engaged, I was prepared to spend ‘as much a she needed me to spend’. I took her with me to pick out the ring.

    I was pleasantly surprised and delighted when she turned her nose up at diamonds altogether. She only wanted a simple band without a stone.

    You see my wife did not grow up in America. In her country, all that is expected is matching bands. (she comes from a nation that is considered an economic powerhouse in the western world).

    Diamonds are not a necessity at all. She chose her own without any prompting from me.

  8. Question #1: What does your fiancee-to-be like? [I went ring shopping with my wife-to-be and she actually picked out a less expensive ring because she liked the smaller diamond. Apparently size doesn’t matter to her. 🙂 Also, does she want an engagement ring/wedding ring set that works together or does she want an engagement ring and a simple wedding band is something that factors into everything.]

    Question #2: What is your budget? [I would suggest paying cash for a ring. And how much you spend on it is a completely personal decision.]

    I made the choice to return to my hometown and get all 3 of our rings from a family friend who is a jewelrysmith. Sure, it helped budget-wise as he gave us a good deal, but I also liked the fact that our rings came from someone we knew as opposed to someone who we don’t know.

    And we are celebrating our 12th anniversary in a few days, so it’s worked out great so far!

    • James, your tale of how you bought the rings brought a smile to my face. When my husband and I were married, our venue was a greenhouse where I had volunteered in younger days. And our officiant was a fellow volunteer I had worked with. You brought back some very fond memories for me, and your story serves as a good reminder that lifelong memories can be made regardless of the dollar figure you spend (or don’t) on “The Big Day”.

  9. I didn’t get an engagement ring because we had no money when we got married, and what we didn’t have needed to go toward immigration expenses. Once my husband is naturalized, I’ve told him I want a nice ring. I joked that we should spend on it what we spent on his immigration (about $12k). Realistically, I think we’ll probably spend the money to get my great grandmother’s ring remade for me, plus whatever it costs for a nice matching wedding ring that didn’t cost $20 like my current one.

    When I was engaged, a lot of people didn’t believe we were “for real” because we didn’t have a ring, and this frustrated me. (Either that or they assumed I was pregnant). I actually considered getting a cheap zirconia ring just to shut people up. I can understand why women want one. I don’t know what a diamond ring goes for these days, but it seems that if you are reasonably able, a mans should spend whatever is “normal” for his/his fiancee’s peer group. The fact that Kim Kardashian got a huge pink diamond matters less to most women than that she has a ring that is like most of her friends’.

    • Partly we bought a ring to look ‘real’ to immigration. I do sometimes think he got the better end of the deal – he spends $1200 on a ring, I spend something ridiculous on his visa fees and citizenship. Oh well, I’m always going to earn more than him!

  10. It’s not how much you spend, it’s how much better the ring looks when compared to the engagement rings that all of her friends get!

    In all seriousness, this is the wrong way to look at the question. It isn’t about setting a dollar figure and then hitting that; it’s about getting what you want and using money as a means to that end.