Getting Engaged on a Budget
Any good woman – including those who end up carrying more carats than their age – knows that the depth of her man’s love and commitment has far more to do with the size of his heart and the quality of his character than the size and quality of the rock he plunks on her finger. But even on a practical note, going into debt for a big sparkly stone isn’t smart financial planning, especially at the moment when the two of you are just starting your life together and may have bigger expenses on the horizon, such as the wedding, a car, a house or a baby.
Still, many men have heard murky rumors about how an engagement ring has to be a certain percentage of their income – is this true?
“Oh, that old two-months’-salary myth ... A more realistic approach is to set your own budget, as each financial situation is different,” says Heather Levine, a New York-based fashion and beauty editor who spent years at the The Knot. “For some men, the percentage rule fits into that budget, and for others it doesn’t.”
Luckily for the latter, there are lots of options for acquiring resplendent rings at reasonable prices.
First of all, the most affordable option of all is using a (free) family heirloom – and don’t think you are only limited to rings. “Consider using a family stone, such as a diamond from a grandmother’s necklace, and have a jeweler set it for you,” says Levine.
It may take a little more time, but you can also save cash by purchasing loose or wholesale diamonds, designing your own ring and then having a jeweler put it together. Just do your research and make sure you are purchasing the gem from a reputable dealer who is certified by the Gemological Institute of America and/or the American Gem Society. There are plenty of online options to help you learn about the “4 C’s” (cut, clarity, color, carat weight) and design your dream bling.
Find more great deals on gorgeous “used” rings at auctions and estate sales, or at vintage shops. “Many of the rings have lovely details like hand engraving and lacy filigree work that will never be out of fashion,” says Paula Bixel, owner of Gilt, a Portland, Oregon-based store that specializes in vintage and artisan jewelry. “And an antique is a unique item, so you get the added bonus of being the only one with that ring.”
Another advantage to buying vintage is that you can feel good about your purchase, says Bixel, who guarantees that all her stones are GIA-certified on her website. In essence you are “recycling,” and you don’t have to worry that your diamond or gold purchase is contributing to violations of human rights.
But if your bride has her heart set on a new ring, keep in mind that particular cuts and settings can make a smaller stone look bigger for less money, says Levine. Halo settings, emerald cuts and shallow cuts with a slightly larger surface area, such as the trillion cut, can all make a gem’s “face” appear larger, and they emphasize the stone’s brilliance and clarity. Many times you can also save more money if you purchase both the engagement ring and wedding band together.
Yet another option is to select a ring designed with lots of small diamonds, since smaller gems are more plentiful (and cheaper) than large stones. “Buying the same total carat weight in a single stone is nearly always more expensive than a flurry of smaller diamonds,” Levine says.
Or skip the ice altogether. Diamonds may still be the most common engagement ring stone, but consider picking increasingly popular and more unique gems, such as tanzanite, mystic topaz or aquamarine, says Levine. Diamonds can always be used as accent stones, which is far more affordable.
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