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How Much Should You Spend on an Engagement Ring in 2020?

Thinking of taking that next big step? Here are some guidelines on how to shop for, and how much to spend on, an engagement ring.

By Kristina Russo | American Express Credit Intel Freelance Contributor

4 Min Read | December 20, 2019 in Life

 

At-A-Glance

The traditional rules about how much to spend on an engagement ring are becoming obsolete.

Making an individual statement with unique engagement rings is a growing trend.

The best way to buy an engagement ring may be online.

Tips to help you get the most for your money.

Is a diamond still a girl’s best friend? And if so, what’s that friendship worth—how much should you spend on an engagement ring?

 

Millions of millennials—and more mature couples, too—are asking questions like these, as changing generational attitudes ripple into engagement ring spending decisions. Many want their engagement rings to be much more personal than in the past—an extension of their personality rather than cookie-cutter. As a result, the engagement ring purchase process is changing, starting with how much people are spending on engagement rings.

 

This article explores what Americans are spending on engagement rings today, then dives into some of the trends shaping that engagement ring spend.

 

How Much Should an Engagement Ring Cost?

When you’re in the market for a ring, here are some things to consider:

  • How much you need to set aside for your wedding and honeymoon,
  • Where you live—prices vary a lot,
  • Your current and predicted income,
  • Your savings and your other expenses,
  • Your partner’s input—they may have their own ideas

Spending between one and three month’s salary for an engagement ring is a long-standing tradition. But millennials, generally saddled with student loan debt and high costs of living—and waiting longer to get married—have thrown out this old rule of thumb. Less than half of millennials spend two month’s salary.1  Instead, they often reallocate those funds into experiences, like the honeymoon or the wedding.

 

Today, the median American spends about 4% of their annual pretax income on an engagement ring, which roughly equates to two weeks salary.2 (Median means middle—there are as many people who spend more as there are who spend less.) That’s still a substantial sum: A one carat engagement ring typically costs around $5,500.3 But most couples have no idea what diamonds cost: they set out to spend between $1,000 and $5,000, yet the average cost of an engagement ring ends up being over $6,000.4 Statistically, spending for engagement rings has a long tail: 7 percent of Americans spend over $10,000.5

 

Where you live also may impact your budget. New York City and Chicago boast the biggest average diamonds, at 1.45 and 1.29 carats, respectively.6

 

There’s no one-size-fits-all formula. How much you spend on an engagement ring is a very personal decision. Experts say you should consider your current and predicted income, expenses, and savings, then establish a budget and stick to it. Don’t go into debt just to “keep up with the Joneses.” Consider input from your partner: for example, a third of women want input on the ring budget.7

How Much Should an Engagement Ring Cost?

A one carat engagement ring typically costs around $5,500, but most couples spend over $6,000—and 7 percent spend over $10,000.  

 

How to Get the Best Engagement Ring for Your Money

To help you get the most for your money when buying an engagement ring, experts suggest:

  • Consider buying a loose diamond online and have a local jeweler set it.
  • Buy a fractionally undersized diamond (.95 carat rather than 1.0, for example)—you may save up 20 percent.8
  • Focus more on a high-quality cut—it can hide flaws in color, clarity, and carat.
  • Be open to alternative shapes and settings, which can make a splash without adding cost.
  • Focus on how a ring looks to the naked eye in sunlight. Ignore the jeweler’s loupe and jewelry store lighting.
  • Only buy diamonds with Gemological Institute of America (GIA) or American Gem Society Laboratories (AGSL) grading to ensure you get what you paid for.

 

Trends Shaping Engagement Ring Spending

Engagement ring spending stats reflect how both millennials and older couples who are remarrying are changing the dynamic of buying engagement rings.

 

People are getting married later, with more life experience and a more developed identity. As a result, they want greater originality in what they purchase, how much they spend, and how they buy. These expressions of individuality have manifested in several trends: unusual stones, settings, colors, shapes and styles. More couples are opting for sapphire, emerald, moissanite or lab diamonds because they are unusual, affordable, and sometimes more socially responsible (not “blood diamonds”).

 

Only 70% of millennials stick with traditional diamonds, in contrast to 80% of couples in 1990.9,10 Older couples getting married for a second time are making a similar shift, seeking unique engagement rings that reflect their personalities.

 

And the importance of the ring itself is declining, replaced by the proposal and other experiences. More than 50% of women say they’d prefer a fairy-tale proposal over a large engagement ring, and 46% are even willing to split the cost with their partner.11,12

 

How to Buy an Engagement Ring

The best way to buy an engagement ring is to be an informed purchaser. Whether you purchase online or at a brick-and-mortar store, if you’re opting for a diamond it’s important to do your research on the “four Cs”: Cut, Clarity, Color, Carat. And possibly on a fifth “C”—credit.

 

If you prefer to see and touch a purchase before pulling the trigger, the best way to buy may be from a:

  • National retailer
  • Private jeweler
  • Wholesaler
  • Trunk show
  • Your local diamond district. While New York’s may be most famous, many other American cities—like Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Providence—have diamond districts of their own. 

 

But many believe the best way to buy an engagement ring is via online retailers, where the average cost of an engagement ring tends to be about 40% lower than at local jewelers.13 Many diamond websites allow users to search available stones based on their desired mix of the four Cs, and have setting-design features to help shoppers achieve the unique customized rings they seek. However, beware of bogus websites; reputable sites will be able to provide diamond certification which can be cross-checked with tools like Report Check from GIA. Reputable online jewelers will also insure your shipment and offer a customer-friendly return policy.

 

The “Fifth C”: Credit Card

Experts agree the best way to pay for an engagement ring is with cash. Cash may provide more negotiating power with a jeweler and helps you avoid a possible debt hangover from financing. But a 0% APR credit card with an introductory promotional period that aligns with your ability to pay off the balance is another payment option. This scenario offers flexibility, gives you extra time to pay, and the ability to pay extra whenever you can. It may also allow you to earn rewards or a sign-up bonus, depending on the card terms, since sign-up bonuses typically require a short-term spending threshold.

 

The Takeaway

The rules of engagement have changed: millennials and older couples planning second marriages focus on individuality and sentiment. How much to spend on an engagement ring, and the best way to buy one, are highly personal decisions that are evolving—but being an informed buyer is truly timeless.

Kristina Russo

Kristina Russo is a CPA and MBA with over 20 years of business experience in firms of all sizes and across several industries, including media and publishing, entertainment, retail, and manufacturing.

 

All Credit Intel content is written by freelance authors and commissioned and paid for by American Express. 

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