How To

Engagement Ring Shopping on a Budget

Valentine’s Day is one of the most popular days to get engaged, according to the Diamond Information Center. An engagement ring generally carries a high price tag and tends to be one of the larger purchases a person makes in their lifetime.

A common belief (most likely perpetuated by the diamond industry, in my not-so-humble opinion) is that the cost of an engagement ring should be equivalent to three month’s salary.

Three month’s salary is a lot of green, particularly in these tough economic times. Recession or not, spending a small fortune on an engagement ring is unnecessary.

If you are planning on popping the question this Valentine’s Day (or any other day), here are some ways to lessen the blow to your bank account.

But first:

Diamonds 101

Before we get started, I have a few words about the “Four C’s” of diamonds: Cut, Clarity, Color, and Carat. If you consult a jeweler, it’s likely that they are going to give you an in-depth presentation on the importance of these four factors. In my opinion, not all of them should be weighed evenly.

The clarity of a diamond is related to the imperfections within the stone. Most of them are microscopic and cannot be seen with the naked eye. The diamond in my engagement ring actually has a huge flaw in the corner of it. At least, that’s what I’ve been told because it’s certainly something I have never noticed. Why pay more for something that isn’t noticeable?

The color rating of the diamond is related to the absence of color within the diamond, or how “yellow” the stone is. Yellow, being undesirable. The highest rated diamonds are given a D, E, or F in color. The next tier on the color scale is G, H, I and J. Unless you are comparing a D stone to a J one, the differences in color are difficult to detect with the naked eye. You can save yourself a ton of dough by sticking to the second tier.

Fine jewelry designer Staci, of AnaStaci, says, “A big, colorless diamond with very few inclusions is much more rare to find than one that has some color or a few imperfections. I believe the most important of the 4 C’s are cut and carat weight. Color is very personal. I have had clients like a little color in their diamonds, where others love the clear blue vividness of a D color graded diamond.”

The cost of a diamond is largely based on the carat, or size of the diamond. There are ways to create the illusion of a larger stone, as mentioned below in this article, but there is another way to cut corners around this one. Purchasing a diamond just below a whole number will dramatically reduce the price. For example, a diamond that is .9 carats, versus 1 carat, is much less expensive. You can use this rule wherever your budget falls on the stone sizing.

The cut of the diamond is what gives it its sparkle. A poorly cut diamond will have a huge impact on how the light reflects off the stone. Think about putting a significant portion of your budget into a diamond that is properly cut. Staci also says, “The cut is the only part of the diamond that is man-dictated, and really defines the brilliance of a stone. Inclusions are hard for many average people to see, so you can ‘give’ in this area.”

Finally, where you purchase your diamond is ultimately more important than any of the Four C’s. Diamonds are beautiful and they may last forever, but the social and ethical price to bring them to market is larger than any dollar figure can ever amount to. Some ethical and socially responsible diamond dealers to consider are BrilliantEarth.com and TurtleLoveCo.com.

Now that you are all diamond aficionados, we can get down to the nitty gritty: How to buy an engagement ring on a budget.

Take the pressure off.

Whether your budget is $50 or $50,000, keep in mind that an engagement ring is a symbol love and commitment, not keeping up with the Joneses. Starting a life together with unnecessary financial stress and burden completely misses the point of the meaning behind a marriage proposal. Let go of the idea that the size of the ring is equivalent to the magnitude of your love and settle on a figure that is within your means.

Select a style.

Certain engagement ring styles are more affordable than others. Here are a few to consider:

Pronged Setting. This style uses less metal, which significantly lowers the price of the setting. You can use the extra dollars you saved to invest in the stone or your IRA. Just saying’.

Fancy cuts. The least expensive cut right now is the marquis, an oval-shaped diamond with points at the ends that appears larger than it is. Round cut diamonds are the most expensive, as they are classic and are the only stones that can offer a perfectly mathematical, symmetrical cut to provide the most fire and scintillation. According to Staci, ”Princess cuts, ovals and cushions are great options, as they fit nicely in the very popular vintage-inspired settings that many girls like these days. These ‘fancy cuts’ as they are termed are less expensive per carat than rounds.”

Engraving and filigree. Skip eternity settings (bands that are adorned with tiny diamonds all the way around) and opt for engraving or filigree instead. This is an easy way to “fancy” up a band without shelling out big bucks for a ton of sparkle. Fun fact: My wedding ring is intricately engraved all the way around and is often mistaken for an eternity band.

Halo setting. A halo design is where the center stone is surrounded by a circle of smaller stones. This design gives the optical illusion of a larger center stone, if that’s what you are going for. Halo settings are high on the “wow” factor and give the ring a vintage feel.

Something old vs. something new.

Certain antique stores carry exquisite and unique alternatives to traditional engagement rings. A family heirloom is also an excellent alternative option that also carries deep meaning. I have a particular fondness for antique engagement rings because they are timeless, one-of-a-kind pieces that come with a rich history.

Think outside the box. Errr…. Diamond.

There are plenty of stunning stones that make beautiful alternatives to diamonds. Consider using your partner’s birthstone or a stone related to the month of an important date in your relationship. Blue, pink or yellow sapphires are popular alternatives, as are citrine, peridot, moonstone, and pearls. Moissonite, a stone harvested in a lab, is rising in popularity because of its sparkly, inexpensive, and socially responsible nature.

Staci also recommends using alternative stones. “I love tourmaline stones as they are so unique. They come in a range of color from hunter green to watermelon pink. I did an amazing 8-carat bi-color tourmaline (meaning the color of the stone had an ombre effect that started green at one end and faded into a beautiful light pink on the other) set with yellow gold and diamonds.

Thinks waaaaay outside the box.

For some you wild and crazy cats out there, an engagement ring just isn’t your thing. There are plenty of cultures that honor marriage in other ways and who says you have to put a rock on someone’s finger to symbolize your commitment to each other? Maybe you want to create your own tradition or ceremony when you decide to commit to your partner. The important thing is that you feel connected to the symbol, whatever it may be. There are no rules in love, just… love.

Morgan Benzian is a freelance writer and blogger living in Southern California with her two daughters and flock of backyard chickens. You can read more of her at The Little Hen House.