Diamonds are a girl’s best friend, but at what cost?

A few years ago, one of my good friends asked for a loan to buy, of all things, his girlfriend a wedding ring. He’d saved up a lot of money already, but was a couple hundred dollars short and wanted to propose to her on her birthday.

Steve Lee and Yoomi Ou pose for engagement photos in Duluth in 2009. Photo credit: Phil Skinner

Steve Lee and Yoomi Ou pose for engagement photos in Duluth in 2009. Photo credit: Phil Skinner

To this day, I’m still not sure what to make of that. Is a proposal not really real if there is no ring to go along with it? Was the ring out of his price range? And how much should a guy spend on a ring, anyway?

The rule of thumb is two months salary. Who made that rule, by the way? In what seems like an entire career ago, I was a sportswriter covering college football. One of the nation’s most prominent and successful coaches told me the story of eloping during his senior year as a player. When his wife showed me the ring, I was stunned to see that it was a simple, gold band.

Undoubtedly she’d been adorned with diamonds of all shapes and sizes since. Still, this was the ring she wore every day.

Question: How much should a guy spend on a wedding ring? Should he save for it — which can take a long time — or charge it and pay later? What’s the right thing to do in this situation?

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13 comments Add your comment

Frugal One

May 10th, 2010
8:09 pm

Pawnshops are a great place to go diamond shopping.

iRun

May 10th, 2010
11:02 pm

I’ve been married for 13 years. When I got married I was 23 years old. My husband and I were in our second-to-last year of college when he proposed. We didn’t have a whole lot of money. Of course, nowadays, it’s not really a surprise when a guy proposes to a girl. I mean, you’ve been talking about it a lot, right? At least that’s how it was with us. We’d decided we wanted to get married. I told him that since we were still students and didn’t have a lot of extra cash that we forgo an engagement ring and just pony up for the wedding bands. I had the idea that we should instead put the money towards a computer (ok, this was the late 90s….neither of us had our own computer and we were tired of going to the computer lab at school and MAYBE finding one free…our first computer was a Dell…I remember that).

Anyway, he admitted it was pride but he bought me a ring anyway. It cost him $700. He got it from Service Merchandise because he had a credit card with them. Needless to say it’s not exactly a high quality diamond. He took two months to pay it off. He actually had the cash but didn’t want to let go of it all it once…so he decided he’d put it on credit and pay it back in two installments so he could keep a minimum amount of cash on hand.

This makes me smile because now-a-days we take $1500 out of our monthly pay to put into a savings account to pay for home and car repairs…oh how times have changed.

Anyway, I was definitely surprised when he proposed with it. It was during final exams of the Fall Semester. I thought we’d just make an announcement to our families together after exams were over but before we had to split up for the holidays (our families lived in towns 3 hours apart).

I love that ring because it’s the one my husband gave me when he asked me to marry him. And it definitely reminds me of where we started.

My opinion? Rings are overrated. Especially diamond rings. It’s a scam. Go with something unconventional (like your birthstone or the stone for the month you met, or something). But definitely the couple should discuss how much to spend. And don’t charge (I know my husband did it but I wouldn’t advise that).

iRun

May 10th, 2010
11:06 pm

Oh wow, that was long…sorry.

KJ

May 11th, 2010
1:29 am

Depends on the situation. Looking at that picture, I’d bet that guy had to spend a LOT to get that girl.

g rob

May 11th, 2010
5:13 am

SHORT AND SIMPLE!!!! Only buy what you can afford! Love is the most important thing!

mystery poster

May 11th, 2010
9:30 am

I agree 100% with iRun. Spending two months’ salary on a diamond ring is just plain foolish. I can’t imagine walking around with a 10,000 diamond on my finger, that’s half a car!

BongWater Slurpee

May 11th, 2010
10:13 am

A cigar band will work just as well as some gawdy rock.

Belinda

May 11th, 2010
11:54 am

The diamond industry and the jewelry stores came up with that 2 month rule of thumb. Rubbish!

Talented 10th

May 11th, 2010
2:48 pm

Hey, iRun:

Yep, it was long, but worth reading because you made valid points. It’s all about what you can afford. I LOVE jewelry but I’ve learned to hit up estate sales, pawn shops and auctions. I’ve made out like a bandit. Truth be told, diamonds, even the highest quality ones, are NOT REALLY THAT RARE. It’s just that the diamond industry is carefully run and controlled. Control the supply and the demand/cost will rise. PBS did a documentary on the diamond trade and it will blow your mind.

Clever marketing socialized us into believing a woman MUST have a diamond in her engagement ring…bull***t. The only time my husband and I buy retail is when I want something custom made. In that case, you’re paying for a jeweler’s education, expertise and skills. (Shout out to factorysinc.com & Harvey Berkowitz, the best PERSONAL/PRIVATE jeweler in the world!).

iRun

May 11th, 2010
3:13 pm

Talented 10th,

I never saw that documentary but I’ve done a lot of reading about what a scam the diamond industry is. The whole idea of a diamond engagement ring didn’t even really come into vogue until the early part of the last century. Before that other types of rings were used – rubies were quite popular. Family rings, if you were the family-ring family, were also commonly used.

I’m all about heirloom rings, too. I have some gorgeous non-diamond rings from my mother, that she either inherited or my father gave her. It would thrill me if one day my son gave his bride one of those (and that she was the type of gal who dug that sort of thing – that would be extra special).

jrp

May 11th, 2010
3:35 pm

@iRun..Loved your story..Was friends with a couple (with the ex), they spent like 15 grand on their wedding (about 20yrs ago), a month after the wedding, they were trying to borrow money to pay their mortgage..I told my now ex that that was not what I wanted to go thru..

@mystery poster..10,000 isn’t half of a car, to me that is a whole car, with enough left over to pay a years insurance and buy gas for a month..That’s anoher thing that is overrated..A new car..

Talented 10th

May 11th, 2010
5:23 pm

Hey, jrp: you’re not lying about the new car thing…we’re so over that…after paying car notes for years I realized I’d never OWN a car if I kept trading in to get new ones…so, yes, I’m with you on the $10k limit for cars…we consumers need to get more savvy…my husband and I drive luxury imports…USED luxury imports & I say that proudly…now, I can spend that car loan interest money on jewelry (lol!)…great blog, folks…have a good one!

Mary

May 12th, 2010
8:56 am

Engagement rings can be highly overrated (and priced). A co-worker of mine years ago from a very conservative Italian Philadelphia family decided that money spent on it would be much better spent on something they would use together. She bought a beautiful bedroom set. Relatives were aghast. Her wedding ring had lots of diamonds, but she said the engagement purchase brought them a lot of joy and very few pains.