’Tis the Season for Buying an Engagement Ring

Explore your many options before making this important purchase.

A man places an engagement ring on his new fiance's hand after she says yes to marriage.
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Don't be afraid to go cheap. If you feel in your gut that you should go for the pragmatic rather than wildly romantic route when ring shopping, plenty of people have your back.

Mark Elliott, president of Elliott Asset Management in San Diego, advises his clients to "spend as little as possible on a really worthless rock and marketing scheme and spend [money] on something 'real' for themselves instead. That three or none months of pay put into a home or a good investment account could mean several years of earlier and more comfortable retirement while one is still healthy," Elliott says.

He adds that starting off with a huge purchase that leaves you in debt will just make the beginning of your marriage rockier, economically speaking, and money problems, are "a leading reason for failed marriages," Elliot says.

You also want to be very careful if you're both involved in the purchase of the ring but can't come to an agreement on how much you should spend, says April Masini, founder of an online relationship advice site, askapril.com. She says she has come across many women who bought their own engagement rings "because they either wanted to make the selection on their own, or they wanted to buy something that was pricier than what he could afford."

Sounds reasonable, but Masini says resentment may bubble up later if one spouse feels the other should have paid for the ring, or if the spouse who did pay feels he or she was pushed and prodded to spend too much.

[See: 10 Saving Strategies That Can Backfire.]

The idea that you need to spend big – say, three months' salary – is a myth perpetuated by the jewelry industry, Elliott says. Numerous personal finance experts have made similar charges.

"Many new couples don't have a lot of experience with money as a couple, and the wedding and engagement ring, both expensive forays, are their first experiences with it," says Masini, who adds that you can always go big and buy a splashier ring for the fifth, 10th or 20th anniversary.

If you buy responsibly and avoid a ton of debt and financial grief later, you may look back someday and realize your careful and methodical ring purchase was the most important decision you made in the early days of your marriage – besides actually proposing, of course.