How to save and what to spend on an engagement ring

By now most of us are familiar with the idea of "wedding season," which typically runs from around June through September as brides and grooms-to-be aim to take advantage of the best weather for their perfect day. However, right on the heels of when most people get hitched is what might be a more recent phenomenon: engagement season. According to a report from WeddingWire, around 40 percent of U.S. adults who pop the question do so between Thanksgiving and Valentine's Day. In fact, an estimated 15 percent of all engagements in 2016 happened within the same 10 days (right around Christmas).

If you're looking to join that group of excited couples this year, you probably already have your date and ring picked out, and therefore might've spent a pretty penny to buy something your significant other will cherish. But if engagement season has you considering (or reconsidering) your future moves, it helps to read up on how people are saving for what can be a significant expense, and the ways others are actually reducing what they spend on an engagement ring.

Traditional engagement

For many years, engagement rings have traditionally featured diamonds, the most widely beloved gemstone of all. But there are many other "rules" about marriage proposals in the U.S. that have come under scrutiny for various reasons.

One oft-repeated engagement more requires that the person buying the ring must spend around two or three months' worth of their salary on it. Whether or not that standard still applies, the WeddingWire survey pegged the average engagement ring cost at around $5,000 as of 2017. Of course, there are ways to reduce this amount while still finding a diamond ring of high quality, and purchasing it without going into debt.

When it comes to saving and shopping, research is paramount. Nerdwallet suggested prospective proposers shop around at local jewelry stores to get an idea of prices and selection. What you can find nearby should provide a better idea of your budget, rather than an arbitrary portion of your annual paycheck. Surveying your options and understanding gemstone jargon will also help steel you against pushy salespeople or seemingly unbeatable offers.

ProposalBefore you pop the question, come up with a few answers on how much to spend for a ring.

Before finalizing a diamond purchase, insist on a GIA certificate for the stone. This will verify that the cut and quality are exactly as advertised.Beyond that basic advice, there are some more specific ways to maximize your diamond dollar:

  • Take note of the little details that could result in big savings. For example, some gemstone experts note that diamonds with carat ratings just below the standard "magic number" can save buyers as much as 15 percent without looking much different. Or consider opting for a halo setting, which can make the diamond appear bigger than it really is for only a little more money.
  • If you have one, check with your homeowners insurance provider to see if they can add your new ring to your existing coverage policy.

Alternative engagement rings

Even after following these and other tips, you might find a diamond ring simply falls beyond your price range. If you can have an honest conversation with your partner, you might both decide that money is better spent on the wedding festivities or on something else you each consider important. But there are also some materials that look and feel like real diamonds - or are just different types of diamond - at a fraction of the cost:

  • Colored diamonds: The most traditionally desired color of a diamond is crystal clear, but it's possible to find real diamonds in a variety of other natural colors, too. Some of these are much less expensive than uncolored stones.
  • Lab diamonds: Again, these stones are chemically identical to those that fetch the highest prices in retail stores, except they are created in a lab rather than mined from the ground. Lab-grown diamonds can cost around 20 percent less than traditional stones.
  • Alternative stones: Of course, you could always swap out diamond for another classic gemstone like sapphire, emerald, ruby or even quartz. However, remember that diamonds are preferred for one practical reason: They are among the hardest materials known to man. Other stones may chip, fade or grow dull after years of daily wear, so pick a stone that has a higher hardness rating.

Don't hesitate to talk to a financial advisor for more insight on how much to spend on a ring or any other major purchase before heading off to the store.

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