An engagement ring for your partner is one of the biggest purchases you’ll ever make — and definitely one of the most stressful. Although the love of your life probably isn’t going to reject your proposal just because of the ring, you still want them to be overjoyed with the ring the moment you open that little velvet box.
To make sure that happens, learn about your partner’s ring preferences before popping the question — either by asking openly or by strolling casually past jewelers’ windows and discussing their contents. If your partner’s tastes fall more or less in line with what you can afford, you can simply pick out something that fits both their desire and your budget. However, if it turns out the ring you can afford falls a bit short of what your partner wants, it only turns up the stress level.
How to Save With an Affordable Engagement Ring
Fortunately, when it comes to ring shopping, there are several ways to reconcile big dreams with a tight budget. You can always consider delaying your proposal until you can afford the real dream ring. But thinking outside the box about what type of ring to buy and where to buy it can make a splashy ring more affordable.
1. Consider Alternatives to Natural Diamond
Before assuming their dream ring is out of your financial reach, make sure you and your partner have considered all the possible choices. For instance, an engagement ring doesn’t necessarily have to be a natural diamond, and you don’t have to purchase it new. There’s a whole array of less expensive alternatives for an engagement ring you hadn’t considered.
Diamonds don’t have to come from a mine. With modern science, it’s possible to create genuine diamonds in a lab. They’re visually, physically, and chemically identical to natural stones and are considerably cheaper than the natural kind. According to Brilliant Earth, lab-grown diamonds are typically about 30% less expensive than natural diamonds of the same size and quality.
As an added perk, these lab-grown diamonds don’t have the ethical problems associated with natural stones. Aside from the environmental issues caused by mining, sales of diamonds often finance wars and human rights abuses. It’s possible to buy natural conflict-free-certified diamonds, but they typically cost extra, while lab-grown diamonds cost less.
Imitation diamonds like cubic zirconia (CZ) are not the same as lab-grown diamonds. They aren’t as hard as genuine diamonds, which means they can be scratched or chipped. They can also grow cloudy over time.
A trained jeweler can quickly tell the difference between a real diamond and a CZ. However, they look identical to the untrained eye, and they’re much cheaper. According to Everything Wedding Rings, a 1-carat diamond with “passable” color and clarity costs around $1,500, while a comparable CZ sells for only $20. And the larger the stone, the more significant the difference in value.
So if your sweetheart wants a big, sparkly stone and doesn’t care about its dollar value, a CZ ring is an affordable way to make that dream come true.
Colorless stones like white sapphire or moissanite can give the look of a diamond at a lower cost. According to the jewelry site Do Amore, white sapphire has a Mohs hardness rating of 9 (of 10, the highest hardness). But it costs less than 25% as much as a comparably sized diamond (which the Capetown Diamond Museum puts at a Mohs rating of 10). Moissanite is an even better value, scoring 9.25 on the Mohs scale — harder than sapphire and significantly harder than CZ — and costing around 15% as much as a diamond, according to Do Amore.
Alternatively, you could choose a colored stone that’s meaningful to your partner, such as their birthstone. When a friend of mine got engaged, his fiancee told him in no uncertain terms that she wanted a blue sapphire ring, not a diamond — and she was delighted with the vintage ring he chose.
Rings Without Stones
Who says an engagement ring needs to contain gemstones at all? If your betrothed has a unique style, a unique metal ring with an ornate design can be a better way to express it than a shiny rock. Options include an Irish Claddagh ring, a lovers’ knot, or a ring sculpted with the shape of your partner’s favorite animal.
Even if a diamond ring is your partner’s preference, it doesn’t have to be brand-new. You can find jewelry for considerably less by shopping secondhand at places like:
The biggest downside of shopping at places like these is that the selection is limited. You might not find what you want, but if you do, it’ll probably be quite a bit cheaper than a ring from the jeweler.
The most meaningful ring of all could be one that’s been in your family for generations. Even if it’s not large or ornate, an heirloom ring shows you’re truly welcoming your partner into your family. It’s the ideal symbol of a lifelong commitment.
2. Shop Online
According to The Knot, you can find a much better price for your ring shopping online than you would at a local jeweler. Shannon Delaney, director of communications for online diamond retailer James Allen, tells The Knot an identical ring can cost you anywhere from 30% to 50% less online.
Shopping online also has other perks, including:
- A Wide Selection. Local jewelers only have so much room in their display cases. Online jewelers, by contrast, can show you a vast selection of stones and settings. You can browse all the options and make sure you’re getting exactly what you want.
- Easy Customization. If you don’t see the ring of your dreams online, it’s often possible to create it yourself. Many online jewelers allow you to build your ring from scratch, selecting the gem size, cut, color, ring metal, and design.
- No Pressure. When you go into a jewelry store to buy an engagement ring, you often feel pressured to pick something out. Rather than taking the time to shop around or order a ring to your specifications, you’re likely to limit yourself to what happens to be in the display case. Shopping online lets you take your time, consider all the options, and go for a custom ring if that’s what you want.
However, you need to take some precautions when buying a ring online. You can’t see it in person, so you need to examine the pictures from every possible angle and make sure it’s exactly what you want before ordering. Also, take the time to research the company’s payment and shipping methods and return policy. The Knot also recommends requesting certification for your diamond to make sure it’s genuine and ethically sourced.
There are many places to shop for an engagement ring online. According to The Knot, the three most popular choices are James Allen, Blue Nile, and Brilliant Earth. Reviewers at CreditDonkey particularly recommend James Allen for its great online displays and “endless customization options.” Blue Nile also earns high marks for its huge selection and exclusive offerings. Both retailers offer price-match guarantees as well.
3. Size It Down
Another tip Delaney offers for saving on a diamond is to choose a stone that’s a tiny bit smaller. Due to a quirk in diamond pricing, a stone that measures a whole carat or half a carat costs significantly more than one that’s 0.97 or 0.48 carats, even though they look identical to the naked eye. According to The Street, sizing down your ring from a full carat to 0.95 carats can reduce its price by as much as 25%.
Alternatively, you can choose a ring with multiple small diamonds instead of a solitaire. According to The Knot, a cluster of small diamonds typically costs much less than a single large stone. One popular option right now is the halo ring, which has one central gemstone surrounded by a ring of smaller stones. This arrangement makes a small center stone look as large as a much heftier diamond for a fraction of the price.
4. Choose the Right Cut
When it comes to buying a diamond, knowledge is power. The more you know about the “four C’s” of diamonds — color, clarity, cut, and carat — and how they affect the cost, the better you’ll understand how much it’s reasonable to pay for any given stone.
However, the four C’s are not all equally important. According to Long’s Jewelers, for instance, small differences in clarity aren’t that noticeable to the naked eye. Cut plays a far more significant role in bringing out a diamond’s sparkle.
The right cut can also make a small diamond look larger than it really is. A diamond with a shallower cut has a larger diameter than one the same carat size with a deeper cut. That’s the main reason round diamonds tend to look bigger than other shapes, according to Greg Kwiat, partner at Kwiat Diamonds and CEO of Fred Leighton, tells Brides. However, oval and oblong shapes can also make a diamond look bigger because they take up more space on the finger.
5. Save Up for It
Suppose you’ve tried every trick you can think of — shopping around, experimenting with different options, tweaking the diamond size — and the ring you truly want to give your partner simply isn’t in your price range right now. In that case, you have two options. You can settle for a more modest ring, or you can delay your proposal while you save up for the ring of your dreams.
Saving for an engagement ring is like saving for any other financial goal. Simply take the price of the ring and divide it by the number of months until you plan to propose, and you get the number of dollars you need to set aside each month to reach your goal. For instance, if your dream ring costs $3,000 and you want to propose in six months, you must save $500 per month.
If you can’t manage to squeeze that amount of money out of your personal budget, try looking for strategies to boost your savings. For instance, you could temporarily cancel your cable or ditch your gym membership and put that money toward your ring fund. Or you could try to bring in extra income with a side gig or refinance some existing debts to reduce your payments. By combining these strategies, you could save an additional $1,000 in just one month.
Remember, though, that any money you’re setting aside for the ring can’t go toward your other financial goals, such as paying off student loans or saving for retirement. Think carefully about whether it makes more sense to put your savings toward a ring for your partner or toward a debt-free future. Ultimately, you might decide it makes more sense to scale down your ring plans so you can invest your savings into putting your future marriage on a sound financial footing.
6. Get a Starter Ring
The biggest problem with saving up to buy a ring is that it means putting off your marriage. As Harry says in the movie “When Harry Met Sally,” once you’ve decided to spend the rest of your life with someone, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible. Not only does delaying your engagement mean waiting to begin your life together, but it also means you won’t get to enjoy the financial benefits of marriage as soon.
However, you can have your cake and eat it too. You can pick out a modest engagement ring to present when you propose and promise to upgrade to a bigger ring down the road. You can think of this smaller ring like a starter home — a stepping stone to the “forever” ring.
You can also use any of the strategies you can use for buying a forever ring to find an affordable starter ring. For instance, you can shop online, shop secondhand, choose a smaller diamond, choose a lab-created diamond, or get a ring without a diamond at all. At the same time, you can start saving your money to present your partner with a bigger diamond later. You can make it a gift for a milestone anniversary, a significant birthday, or a special occasion, such as your first child’s birth.
Zales suggests several ways to upgrade your ring when the time comes. You can keep the setting from your old ring but replace the stone with a larger one or add more stones to it. Alternatively, you can keep the existing stone and replace the band with a fancier one that contains additional diamonds. Or if your spouse wants to keep the original engagement ring for sentimental reasons, you can simply buy a new ring and move the old one to a different finger.
Don’t let anyone tell you you’re cheap if you can’t — or won’t — spend thousands of dollars on an engagement ring for your partner. What really matters about the ring is that it’s a symbol of your love and commitment, and that’s not something you can set a dollar value on.
Moreover, the purchase of this ring marks the start of your life together. It’s the first of many things you must spend money on in your new life together, such as your wedding, a home, and possibly children. By saving money on the ring, you’re leaving yourself with more for these other expenses down the road, which will probably go further toward creating a happy life for the two of you.
Which of these options do you consider reasonable ways to save on an engagement ring? Would you be comfortable giving or receiving a ring that wasn’t a brand-new natural diamond?