Fellas, don’t believe everything you read. The maxim about spending two months’ salary on an engagement ring is absurd. You can get a beautiful piece of jewelry on a smaller budget! Besides, if you’re a regular Money Crashers reader, you probably know that it’s not smart to marry someone who actually believes you should spend the equivalent of a small car on a piece of jewelry unless you can amply afford it. However, there are lots of ways to get more value in an engagement ring purchase.
Here are a few guidelines to go along with our recent post on how to buy a diamond ring. First, I’ll start with things NOT to do when buying an engagement ring. Then, I’ll discuss some unique methods that should help you save a ton of money.
The 5 Things NOT To Do
1. DON’T go shopping without a budget, and don’t look at rings far outside that budget. Same as with house hunting – if you see a ring that’s twice what you wanted to spend, of course it’ll be nicer, and then you’ll keep thinking about that ring. Compare only those items that are within your price range. On a related note, if you tell a salesperson your budget, and they show you a ring that’s more than 10-20% above that budget, leave the store. Those people are not your friends.
2. DON’T buy from a big fancy store if you want to buy a cheap engagement ring while still getting great quality. These stores have much higher rents and thus have to move more inventory, leading to high-pressure sales and the need to make bigger margins on each item. You’re more likely to get a better deal at a smaller store.
3. DON’T buy on emotion. Yes, that ring is beautiful and exactly what she wants, but it will most likely still be there tomorrow. Make sure you see multiple setting styles and stone sizes and shapes before deciding – if at all possible, take a few notes or pictures and come back the next day. Engagement rings are emotional purchases by their very nature, but being calm and rational will keep you from buying something you’ll regret later, especially since many stores don’t take returns.
4. DON’T buy during the holiday season. The majority of engagements take place around Christmas, and there won’t be much on sale since lots of guys fail to follow the above list, and just rush in and buy whatever looks okay to them. The summer months are devoid of jewelry-related holidays (Flag Day, anyone?) and you’ll have time to spare.
5. DON’T buy in a rush. Take your time so you know what’s out there and how much it costs. Giving yourself a month or two will allow you to browse, compare, and consider all the options below while being stress-free.
6 Non-Traditional Methods of Saving on Engagement Rings
1. eBay – You would be surprised (or maybe you wouldn’t) at how many engagement rings are on eBay. The majority are sold by professional jewelry resellers or stores, and have detailed descriptions, certificates of gem grade, high quality pictures, and money back guarantees. You get a great price on the same rings you’d find at a store, since these sellers are able to save on overhead and staffing. Checking the feedback is a must – most of these sellers are high volume and will have lots of recent items sold. If they don’t, that’s a red flag. Most big sellers will have hundreds or thousands of feedback notes.
A smaller but significant number of the rings are sold by individuals. You can get a better deal here, but must be careful. Steer clear of rings listed with cell-phone pictures, spotty descriptions, or sellers with low feedback numbers. Many of these sellers are trying to unload their own engagement rings – though I like to think of it as helping a fellow out, many of these sellers probably don’t know the size, quality, or origin of their diamonds, and might even state the wrong size. Since many stores don’t take returns, you might be getting an awesome deal from someone who simply was unable to return the ring. And if it’s a recent purchase, they might still have the ring’s gem certificate from the store and can list how much they purchased it for.
Keep in mind that most rings, especially gold ones, are easily resized, so you can get a great deal on a ring that might be a little too large to begin with. Many of my friends who have gotten engaged were given rings that were inadvertently too large, and had to take them to the jeweler the next week anyways!
2. Pawn Shops – If your budget isn’t big, a pawn shop or jewelry reseller can be a great place to get something pretty without spending a lot. You’re not likely to find enormous rocks here, but many resellers have a good selection of simple rings.
3. Moissanite Rings – If your girl is into saving the world as well as saving money, a moissanite ring is a good way to go. Moissanites are lab-created minerals that are extremely similar to diamonds – they’re almost as hard as diamonds, they’re colorless, and are quite sparkly as well. Since many people object to the diamond industry and the methods by which they obtain the diamonds, moissanite is a good middle ground. You still get a clear, sparkly stone, but without the moral issues. And did I mention they cost a lot less? Moissanite generally runs less than $1,000 per carat and is always colorless, whereas many diamonds are signficantly more per carat for a colorless or near colorless stone. Unless you tell people (or you’re friends with a lot of professional gemologists), no one will know the difference. Find retailers and more information at www.moissanite.com.
Don’t confuse moissanite with cubic zirconia! Cubic zirconia stones are not a good choice for an engagement ring. They are not as durable as diamonds and can crack. Plus, they tend to accumulate scratches over time, and with daily wear can end up looking pretty bad in a couple of years. Even a nice one isn’t going to hold up to a lifetime of use.
4. Colored Stones – This is a growing trend in engagement rings. I have known several girls who requested a particular colored stone instead of a diamond, and their rings look fabulous. If your girlfriend has a lot of jewelry with a particular stone, perhaps a ruby or emerald, or she just really likes the color, you can save a lot of money with a colored stone over a diamond. And if you’re still in the diamond-budget range, you can buy a truly stunning colored stone for the same price as a much smaller diamond.
As with diamonds, colored stones can have inclusions or be color-corrected. Make sure that the stone doesn’t have too many inclusions or internal cracks, as colored stones are not as hard as diamonds, and internal flaws can lead to the stone cracking years down the line. A reputable jeweler can help you find one that suits you.
5. Buying the Stone and the Setting Separately – This is a very popular option as well, especially if you’re the planning type and are looking for rings a few months in advance. If you find the setting you want, you can spend more time looking for deals on a great stone. Many online retailers sell loose diamonds, and you can frequently get a better price buying them separately and having a local jeweler set the stone in the setting for you. Since you’re frequently judging your like or dislike of a ring mostly on the setting, you can pick out a setting at a local store in person, and buy a diamond online where you’re likely to find a better price.
6. Multiple Stones – While the traditional engagement ring is a big fat solitaire and nothing else, there are lots of beautiful new designs that incorporate smaller stones to create a bigger overall effect. A 2 carat diamond is likely to cost more than three 1-carat diamonds, and any flaws in the 2 carat solitaire will be more noticeable. A pretty center stone flanked by two smaller stones gives more overall sparkle for less money and can add a sense of modernity to the ring. Plus, she’s less likely to catch the stone on things since it won’t be sticking out all by itself without any protection.
Remember, you’ll spend a month looking for it, but she’ll spend a lifetime looking at it. If you’re not sure what she’ll like, or if the hints she’s dropped haven’t been sufficiently large enough, asking her best friend will help you get on the right track. Or ask her to come herself after you propose! Good luck and happy hunting!
(photo credit: Rose Robinson)