Christmas, New Year’s Day and Valentine’s Day are the most popular days to pop the question, but a marriage proposal often means an expensive engagement ring and subsequently, debt. If the diamond industry has anything to say about your engagement ring purchase, you’ll spend anywhere from 1-3 months salary on a diamond engagement ring (an average of $4000).
However, a little forethought and some creativity can lead to significant savings and a debt free engagement ring. After all, it’s far more romantic to propose with a paid for ring than to drag the equivalent of a car payment into your marriage.
Heirlooms are a wallet’s best friend
Jewelry passed from generation-to-generation denotes sentimentality and fiscal prudence. Ask your future spouse’s family if they have any heirlooms that they would like to pass on, and ask your own family too. If you obtain an heirloom ring, consider these three options.
- Leave the ring in tact (except for resizing and repair).
- Create a new setting for an heirloom diamond.
- Incorporate a new band into the old ring design.
Heirloom jewelry will be free, but the service and upgrades run from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars. My husband spent around $2000 for a customized setting and wedding band for my heirloom diamond. Remember, etiquette is everything when it comes to heirlooms, so keep your communication and intentions as clear as possible.
Buy your diamond on the cheap-ish
Diamonds are never inexpensive, but knowing what and when to buy can save you a bundle.
- Shop in the summertime. Since winter proposals are by far the most popular, it makes sense to buy your diamond in the off-season. The summer months offer stable pricing at a discount.
- Buy diamonds shy of critical weights. If you want a full carat diamond, look for something around .9 carats instead. You’ll get close to the same look at a nice discount.
- Look before you buy. Compare diamonds at various parts of the color and clarity spectrum. If you can’t tell the difference in the diamond’s appearance, choose the less expensive option. (Since this is a slippery slope, seek your fiance’s input too).
Replace the diamond, save the difference
Thanks to the diamond industry’s multi-decade, multi-billion dollar advertising campaign, diamonds remain the most popular stone in engagement rings, but forgoing the traditional gem can save you thousands. Consider these emerging trends.
- Choose synthetic diamonds. Diamonds created in labs share the same properties as mined diamonds, but they cost up to 75% less than traditional diamonds, and they are a great choice for those seeking to avoid conflict diamonds.
- Replace a diamond with moissanite. A gemologist will never tell you this, but moissanite (a synthetic material) is harder than diamonds and surpasses diamonds on clarity and color scales too. It’s not a valuable gem, but it is beautiful. (Pro tip- Ask your future spouse before you go this route. Many people prefer authenticity.)
- Pick an alternative gemstone. Pearls or jade are popular choices outside of the United States, and garnet and topaz are gaining popularity stateside. If you want something out of the ordinary, consider alternative gemstones, but be careful what you buy- some gemstones are much more expensive than diamonds.
- Skip gemstones altogether. Ornamental rings (especially knots) are popular choices for those who want to skip gemstones altogether. Handcrafted gold rings can be purchased for as little as $200 on Etsy.
Some of the best ways to save money on engagement rings is to break tradition. These are few ring choices that really buck current trends.
- Leather rings: A friend of mine who proposed to her boyfriend bought unisex leather rings from Etsy. The couple wore them for three years until the rings started to take on a funky odor (now they go ringless).
- Wooden rings: Wooden engagement occupy a large niche, and can be a cost effective alternative to precious metals. Wooden rings run anywhere from $50 for simple bands to several thousand dollars for rings that include ornate details and gemstones.
- Tattooed rings: Several friends and colleagues chose to get tattoos instead of rings citing that nothing says forever quite like a tattoo.
Save money now, upgrade later
If your fiancé has a big diamond taste, but you’ve got a small budget then consider upgrading later on. Here’s how.
- Propose with costume jewelry. Some consider proposing without a ring faux pas, but over ? of all women would not prefer to put off an engagement because their boyfriend can’t afford a ring. If you think you can save up for the real ring by the time of your wedding, an inexpensive piece of costume jewelry may be right for the proposal.
- Build as you go. Start with a simple band and stone, and add more or bigger gems for anniversary milestones.
- Go huge… once you have the money. My aunt wore a gold band for the first two decades of her marriage, but when it started to thin, she upgraded big time. She designed a custom ring with multiple gemstones and a 2-carat diamond center. Tenth and thirtieth wedding anniversaries are customary dates to upgrade wedding jewelry (though an informal Facebook poll indicated “When the kids move out” was another great time to upgrade).
If you (or your fiancé) feels a divorce could taint a ring’s beauty, then shopping used isn’t for you, but overlooking a ring’s history can lead to significant savings. You can have the ring professionally cleaned to give it new beauty.
- Visit pawn shops. You’re likely buying the ring of a recent divorcee, but the savings can be irresistible. My sister-in-law’s ring came from a pawn shop for a mere $200.
- Search estate sales. If you regularly shop estate sales, you might uncover some a vintage ring at a spectacular price. Rings that aren’t presented with a certificate of authenticity will give you room to negotiate on price, but you may still accidentally buy overpriced junk. This technique is best for people with an eye for authenticity.
- Shop on ebay. Pre-owned rings from ebay represent about a 30% discount over identical new rings, and many owners provide certificates of authenticity.
Creative ways to get cash
Whether you’ll spend a few hundred dollars or thousands, an engagement ring doesn’t have to mean big debt. Consider a few creative ways to save the cash you need to pay for a ring in full.
- Sell your memorabilia. Your fiancé probably isn’t too enthusiastic about your KISS memorabilia, or your 27 signed hockey jerseys. Selling these to pay for her engagement ring will be a double sign of your love.
- Give new meaning to blood diamond. If you’re willing to regularly donate plasma, you can earn $100 per week or more. Adding this money to your savings can give you the power to buy within a few months (which is good, because ongoing regular plasma donations can be dangerous).
- Go dutch. If the ring in question is outside of your price range, consider asking your sweetheart to split the cost with you. If you’ll be sharing finances after you’re married, then this can actually lead to some great conversations.
- Save up, way in advance. If you’re not currently in a serious relationship, but you think that you’re the marrying kind, consider setting aside some cash for a future ring purchase. My husband started building a ring account at the age of 16 which made it easy to pop the question (at age 29).