Getting a deal on an engagement ring doesn’t mean you love your bride-to-be any less — it just means you’ll have more money left over to spend on the wedding and married life in general.
If you’re in the market for a diamond ring that doesn’t break the bank, follow these tips to ensure the ring is a symbol of your eternal commitment to your spouse — not an eternal commitment to debt.
Before the bling
If you want to save money, educate yourself before you shop.
1. Set a maximum budget
It’s easy to throw your budget out the window the moment you walk into a jewelry store. Between the bright lights and the fast-talking salesperson, your eye (and your wallet) will be drawn to a large, dazzling diamond instead of a more modest one.
To ensure you hold firm, set a ceiling for the maximum amount you can realistically spend. If you’re afraid you’ll cave in the moment, browse before you buy. Take a day or two to think about the purchase before you commit.
And there’s no need to follow any rule that says the ring’s price should be equivalent to three months of your salary; spend only what’s comfortable for you.
2. Learn the four Cs of diamonds
Don’t buy a diamond before you know its features. You’ll especially want to know the four Cs. Here they are, according to the American Gem Society:
- Cut: This is a measure of the craftsmanship of the diamond — for example, the way the stone is faceted will affect how much sparkle it has
- Color: This has to do with the lack of color in the diamond. A colorless diamond is higher quality than a light yellow diamond, for instance.
- Clarity: This refers to the inclusions or blemishes of the diamond
- Carat: This is a measure of the physical weight of the diamond
The more perfect a diamond is in each of these categories, the more it’ll cost, so you’ll usually have to decide which of the criteria you care about most.
Michael Fried, CEO of diamond educational website The Diamond Pro, says the ideal formula looks like this: Drop in color and clarity a little bit — but not so much that you notice a yellow tint or obvious inclusion — so that you can maximize size and brilliance.
Avoid diamonds with a cut grade below Very Good, recommends Scott Mackey, COO of Yates & Co Jewelers Inc. in California. Cut grades like Fair, Poor or Good won’t reflect and refract the light enough to produce sparkle, he explains.
3. Comparison shop
Once you learn how to tell diamonds apart, compare prices. Jessica Bishop, the founder of The Budget Savvy Bride, stresses the importance of researching before you buy.
“Look at apples to apples,” Bishop says. “Obviously each stone is technically unique in terms of its specifications, but you can compare the same cut, clarity and carat size among different retailers to see which one is the best value.”
Mackey suggests asking a jeweler to break apart the pricing for the diamond and the ring so you know exactly how much you’re paying for each. That way you can easily cross-compare prices between stores. Fried says buying diamonds online gives you more time to weigh your options, while allowing you to avoid sale pressure.
Don’t feel bound to the familiar jewelry chain in your local mall. Consider locally owned jewelers, too. Mackey points out that many independent jewelers buy “estate diamonds” that had previous owners.
“These estate diamonds typically cost the jeweler much less than buying the same diamond from a diamond wholesaler or diamond cutter,” Mackey said in an email. “Oftentimes, the jeweler is willing to pass on the savings to their customer.”
Picking the ring
When it’s time to buy, keep your options open.
4. Avoid gift-giving holidays
There may not be a perfect day or time to buy an engagement ring, but there’s definitely a time to avoid — holidays.
“It’s not that the diamond wholesalers raise their prices during holiday seasons,” Mackey said. “It’s that during holidays more diamonds sell. The best bargain-priced diamonds obviously are sold first.”
5. Pick fractions
When you go to buy, Mackey recommends picking diamonds that are just under the “magic numbers.”
That way, you can get a similar appearance for a lower price. For example, he estimates choosing a 1.47-carat diamond instead of a 1.50-carat one could save you as much as 15%.
6. Consider a halo
As you shop for a setting to put the diamond in, consider a halo. Bishop says a halo — a type of setting with a circle of diamonds surrounding the center stone — can make a smaller diamond appear larger than it actually is.
7. Or, go frill-free
Not sure if the special lady in your life will like a halo? Buy something simple from the outset and be willing to swap it out later. Bishop says she’s seen some men propose with a solitaire (a plain band with a single diamond). Then, once the couple is engaged, the bride-to-be selects her setting of choice, which may include additional diamonds.
Some jewelers will give you a discount toward a new setting when you trade in your old one for an upgrade.
8. Be skeptical
Fried says there’s no such thing as a super-low price on a diamond: If a seller is advertising a price that sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
The Better Business Bureau has these tips for checking out a jeweler:
- Ask friends and family about the store’s reputation
- Look up the store’s Reliability Rating with the BBB
- Inquire about any trade associations the jewelry store belongs to, as well as the requirements for membership
9. Consider alternative stones
As you educate yourself about diamonds, you may find that they’re out of your price range. Keep in mind that other gemstones may be more affordable, and depending on your beloved, even more in line with her style.
» MORE: 19 ways to save on a wedding
10. Ask about the return policy
Research return and exchange policies so you know how long you’ll have to take back the ring in case you change your mind. Engraved or customized jewelry usually can’t be returned at all. You’ll want to be mindful of return policies when choosing a proposal date, too. If you’re already past the return deadline when you get down on one knee, you risk being stuck with a ring your fiancee doesn’t like. Or, worse, being left with the ring if she says no.
After you buy
After you bring the ring home, care for it responsibly.
11. Get it insured
No matter which ring you chose, that bling on your future spouse’s hand is valuable, so it’s in your best interest to get it insured. Check with your insurance provider to see if you can add coverage for the ring onto your existing policy.
12. Keep up on maintenance
Some jewelers will offer a warranty on your purchase. If they do, check the terms. For instance, Bishop says many mass-market jewelers require that you bring in your ring for an inspection every six months. If you don’t keep up, your warranty could be voided.
If a warranty isn’t standard at the jeweler you choose, and you’re concerned about damage to the ring, you may consider purchasing a protection plan. Just be sure to read the fine print about what is and isn’t covered, as it varies by retailer. Common upkeep like prong replacements may be covered, while loss or theft generally is not.