If you're popping the question sometime soon, you're probably wondering how much to spend on an engagement ring. The short answer is you shouldn’t spend more than you’re comfortable with or more than you can afford. You’ve no doubt heard you should spend up to three months’ salary or to splash out on getting a diamond, but this doesn’t have to be the case.
In this guide, we're going to look at the history of the engagement ring salary rule and explain why you should ignore it. We'll also give you advice on putting together an engagement ring budget, as well as tips on getting the most for your money.
How many months’ salary should I spend on an engagement ring?
While you’ve heard the saying that you should spend one, two, or even three months' salary on an engagement ring for your beloved, the truth is these ideas aren't based in reality.
These rules of thumb have come into the public consciousness largely through advertising campaigns and clever marketing tricks from some of the world's biggest diamond producers.
Back in the 1800s, diamonds were actually cheaper than rubies and emeralds. After the discovery of diamonds in South Africa in 1867, prices tumbled even further.
By the turn of the 20th century, prices began rising, but the trend didn’t last long: the First World War came and luxury items were the last thing on anyone’s list. The Great Depression followed, and worldwide demand for diamonds significantly decreased.
De Beers, a South African diamond company that controlled around 60% of rough diamond output, was forced to close several mines due to a lack of demand.
To try to win back some of their market share, De Beers launched one of the first ever buzz marketing campaigns. It attempted to convince people diamonds were the only acceptable choice for engagement rings through the use of celebrity placements, fashion advertising, and various stories in print media.
De Beers was able to build so much hype around diamonds that they were able to solidify the engagement ring salary rule, which said a man should spend the equivalent of one month's income on an engagement ring.
Before World War II, only 10% of engagement rings contained diamonds. By 1965, this figure had risen to 80%.
This was down largely to De Beers' marketing success, with phrases such as "a diamond is forever" entering the public consciousness. By the 1980s, De Beers decided a single month's salary was no longer enough and upped it to two months.
At some point since then, the idea of spending three months' salary emerged, and now people will claim any of these three numbers to be the 'correct' amount to spend.
Putting together an engagement ring budget
The issue with the engagement ring salary 'rule' is it doesn't negotiate what you can actually afford — or what you and your fiancé actually want to spend. Following it blindly can lead to all kinds of financial and personal problems.
Here's some advice on putting together an engagement ring budget that works for you.
Assess your financial situation
As with any major purchase, assessing your financial situation beforehand is a must. Whether you want to take out a loan to cover the cost or plan to save up and pay for the whole thing at once, you'll need to figure out how much you can comfortably afford.
Think about what your current bills and income are and whether they are likely to change (for better or worse) in the foreseeable future. The important thing to remember is that you shouldn't spend more than you feel comfortable spending.
You shouldn't put yourself into a large amount of debt just to pay for a ring — especially to meet a fabricated three months' salary benchmark. By looking at your income and expenses you can work out a reasonable goal, and the more time you have, the more you'll be able to save.
In an ideal scenario, you want to be able to comfortably pay for the ring upfront or within a couple of months.
For reference: The average amount spent on an engagement ring from 2012–2017 was £1,080, according to insurer Protect Your Bubble, with 8% of couples spending less than £500.
Understand your partner’s expectations
Another important consideration is what your partner expects to receive.
If you've got to the point where you're considering proposing, you might hopefully have an idea of their dream ring — if you don't, now is the time to find out!
Your goal is to find a ring they'll love, irrespective of the price tag. There’s no point spending thousands if you choose a ring they fundamentally won't like. Equally, if they're happy with an inexpensive ring, why spend more?
You could ask your partner outright or go window shopping. Bear in mind this can ruin the surprise if not done in a clever way. A safe bet is to ask their friends or family what they like, but you might also want to consider their individual style and hobbies.
If you’re really unsure and don’t want to mess it up, you can always propose with a temporary ring and then choose your real engagement ring together. Either way, it’s a symbol of your love and commitment. It shows you're invested in a shared future, so the value shouldn't really matter.
How to save money on an engagement ring
When it comes to buying an engagement ring, it can seem like an incredibly complicated process.
It’s easy to end up frustrated and spend more money than you need to with thousands of different combinations to choose from hundreds of vendors. But, armed with a few handy tips, you'll be able to make sure you are getting the most value out of your money.
Understand the four Cs
If you do decide to go for a diamond ring, you need to know about the four Cs: colour, cut, clarity, and carat. You’ll save some money if you know which of these qualities are the most important.
The first trick is to go for a diamond that weighs slightly less than traditional cut-off points like 0.7 or 1 carat. You won't be able to tell the difference between a 0.95 carat diamond and a 1 carat diamond visually, but you'll certainly be able to tell the difference in price.
Colour and clarity are also areas where you can make some savings. The clarity scale indicates how many inclusions or blemishes a diamond has within.
At the higher end of the scale you won't be able to tell the difference without looking under a microscope. The grade matters less than what you can see with the eye. In general, slightly included diamonds (labelled as VS1 and VS2) will fit this criteria and prevent you from paying over the odds.
It's easy to overspend on colour without getting any noticeable difference in return. What you're actually looking for is a lack of colour, and this is measured using a D to Z scale, with D being the whitest and brightest. There is very little visual difference between D and J on the scale, but there is a huge price change.
The cut of the diamond is a much more important aspect to focus on. Rather than being the shape of the diamond, the cut describes the way it has been proportioned and polished.
A well-cut diamond will shine brilliantly and may even appear larger than a bigger diamond with a lesser cut quality. This is a vital factor when trying to make your money go as far as possible.
For a more in-depth look at the four Cs, take a look at our diamond guide.
How to get the best value: Look for a diamond below one of the traditional size cut-off points. Get the best cut you can to get that beautiful shine, but don’t worry as much about clarity and colour. It’s more about how it looks to the eye than how it 'scores' on paper.
Go for something a little different
Another great way of saving money on your engagement ring is to ditch the typical diamond ring in favour of something a little different. One way to do this is to buy a ring made up of lots of smaller diamonds, rather than one large one. The ring will still look stunning, but you won't have to spend as much.
Another option is to swap out the diamond for a different gemstone. Not only does this provide an engagement ring more unique than traditional ones, you'll also be able to save a lot of money.
Sapphires, rubies, and emeralds are the three most popular gemstones after diamonds, and each of them could make you a significant saving. But it's not just these three — there is a whole spectrum containing hundreds of colourful gemstones to choose from.
While diamonds have become the go-to choice for engagement rings, it wasn't always this way, so don't be afraid to take a look at other options and compare what you can get for your money.
Buy pre-owned and online
Rings made from precious metals and stones are hardy and designed to stand the test of time. Getting a pre-owned one is a fantastic way to save a lot of money without taking a hit on quality or longevity. Not only is pre-owned jewellery much cheaper, it’s also a much more eco-friendly option compared to buying a brand-new diamond ring. You can read more about this in our ethical engagement ring guide.
Now that you have a good understanding of how much to spend on an engagement ring, take a look at our fantastic range of engagement rings, including pre-owned engagement rings. Or, for something a little different, take a look at our full range of women's rings.
Not quite ready to shop? We've got lots more advice on choosing the perfect engagement ring, as well as some romantic proposal ideas that are sure to inspire you.