We were standing at the top of a hill on an island in the middle of Lake Michigan. It was a clear September day, my soon-to-be wife’s birthday, as a matter of fact. A rare bald eagle soared over head. Was it a sign? The hill, frequented by tourist hikers, was busy on this particular day.
As we finished up our picnic lunch, I anxiously awaited for the foot traffic to clear out. A tiny $3,000 stone on top of a white gold band lay tucked away in the pocket of my shorts. As the last hiker turned the corner, I got down on one knee and pulled out the engagement ring. “Will you marry me?”.
How Much should you Spend on an Engagement Ring?
Rewind to 4 months earlier…
I knew that I was ready to propose. If I were older and wiser, we would have spent a lot of time talking about it first, but I’ll save that story for another day. The only question left in my mind was, “how much should I spend on an engagement ring?”.
I did my research, like any smart young naive man would do. Three months salary? That sounds about right. It was my first job out of college and I was pulling in a whopping $35K. Three months salary (I assumed they were referring to take home salary, after expenses, but it was actually total salary) would put me right around that $3,000 mark and equal to most of what I had saved at the time. Side note: the “engagement ring salary rule” used to be 1 month of salary, then it jumped to 2 months, and most recently 3 months. Thank you for the kind recommendations, De Beers and the rest of the diamond industry <shaking my head>.
I spent months researching color, clarity, cut, and certification. I wanted the perfect engagement ring. I visited dozens of jewelry stores before settling on just the right diamond online (from a certified, reputable source, of course) and adding it to a gold band from a local jeweler. Was I ready?
Let’s refer to the engagement proposal checklist…
- 3 months take-home income saved? check
- diamond engagement ring purchased? check
- date or location of significance? double check
- unsuspecting element of surprise so she can’t say no? check! (I kid, sort of)
Indeed. I was ready to seal the deal.
The Average Spent on an Engagement Ring (& Other Manufactured Traditions)
My wife and I are still happily married to this day. However, I look back upon the engagement and proposal process with a bit of embarrassment, even shame.
I didn’t think to question the engagement ring tradition at all. This is ironic, in that just 10 months later, we would wrap up a cheap wedding that only cost us $2,500. One of our primary goals was to ignore all of the average wedding cost recommendations and avoid tradition as much as possible.
That’s right. I spent more on the engagement ring than we did on the wedding.
I spent my life savings on a tiny material item that had no family history, no sentimental value, and had a negative impact on the environment to unearth.
And I did it because it was “the thing you do”. In fact, more than 80% of American brides-to-be receive a diamond engagement ring. And the average ring cost? Now, it’s up to $5,900 (though 2/3rds of Gen Z and millennials think it should cost less than $2,500 according to a recent study). By the way, this ‘tradition’ didn’t evolve until the 19th century and really didn’t take off until De Beers discovered mines in South Africa that drove the price of diamonds down and the ensuing 1930s and 1940s advertising campaigns to convince the American public that every girl should get a diamond.
Since then, my wife and I have changed quite a bit. We’ve evolved. Material possessions mean next to nothing to us these days. We’ve spent a good part of the last year selling off about half of our possessions – many of which we were emotionally attached to at one time.
At some point, I decided to cancel the $30/year jewelry coverage we had added on to our home insurance policy to cover the ring, in the event it were lost or stolen. If we lost it, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. We wouldn’t try to replace it with something nearly as pricey. So why pay insurance on it?
I even went so far as to propose to my wife that if she ever decided she wanted to get rid of the ring (perhaps to unleash the $3,000 burden off her hand and shoulders), she had my support. It has nothing to do with the cost – we are doing well financially these days – rather, the glitzy piece of jewelry does not represent us anymore. Looking back, it never really did. Any old ring would have been good enough.
Reconsider the Engagement Ring & Proposal Process
What might be even more shameful than buying a $3,000 engagement ring, in retrospect, is that I bought in to the whole engagement tradition. When you would like someone to make a lifelong commitment to you, is it fair to approach that moment with an element of surprise and an expensive piece of jewelry?
The marriage decision should be a careful evaluation and discussion of life goals and values over a period of years. There should be no element of surprise. There should be no $3,000, $10,000, or $20,000 engagement ring carrot.
If you need any band at all, why not just make it a wedding band? Something that you can pick out together. Something with significance.
Besides, what percent of engagements have ended in complete failure? And for those that don’t, there is now research that suggests spending more on an engagement ring can lead to higher rates of marriage failure!
Most expensive traditions that have been adopted in this country have been born of or at least amplified by corporate interests – Valentine’s Day, spending hundreds on Christmas gifts, having at least 2 cars per family, the diamond engagement ring, spending 3 months of salary on an engagement ring, every aspect of the traditional wedding, building a home, getting a 3-4 bedroom with a 3-car garage, the Disney World family vacation, taking out a mortgage on a home, getting multiple degrees and taking out student loans, even funerals! Sounds like the picture perfect American life.
Perhaps the number one variable of one’s financial success over life is their willingness to turn their back on tradition?
Engagement Ring Cost Discussion:
- How much did you spend on your engagement ring? Why?
- What is your engagement ring story? (good or bad)
- If you are still married, does the engagement ring mean anything to you or your spouse