Getting married should be a joyous time, when all you want to do is celebrate your love with those closest to you.
But nowadays, it’s become a financial matter. It’s not just about if you should invite old high school friends to the wedding, it’s about if you can afford to do so.
And it all starts with the engagement ring. According to wedding website The Knot, the average cost of an engagement ring in 2018 was $5,680.
If you’re trying to reach FI, spending $5,000 on one item seems ludicrous. That could pay for the insurance deductible in a high-deductible plan, cover the cost of a new air conditioner, or a sensible used car. That money could do any number of things.
Not getting an engagement ring is a common alternative, but what if you still want to follow some semblance of tradition? What if you still want to have that symbol on your finger?
Then, you need to get creative. Here are some of the best ways to cut back on your engagement ring.
Alternatives To Diamond Engagement Rings
Use Other Gemstones
When Prince William proposed to Kate Middleton, he used the same engagement ring his father gave to Princess Diana. It was an oval sapphire, surrounded by small diamonds in a white gold setting.
Since that day, sapphires have become more popular for engagement rings. It’s a gemstone that makes a bold statement–and is considerably less expensive than a diamond.
You can find a sapphire solitaire ring for as little as $500, or a replica of Middleton’s ring for $1,839 on Etsy. ChooseFI member Kerri Mikolaizyk loves her $200 lab-created sapphire ring her husband got from Etsy.
“It’s so unique and anyone could afford it,” she said.
When Katy Perry got engaged to Orlando Bloom, she debuted a ring with a pink gem in the center, flanked by small diamonds all around. Choosing a colorful gem can be a fun fashion choice as well as a budget-friendly option.
Morganite is another popular diamond alternative for those who want a delicate and unique-looking gem. The stone has a subtle pink hue, but is much less expensive than a pink diamond.
White topaz, moonstone and white sapphire are also popular diamond alternatives if you still want a clear stone. Pink sapphires, aquamarines and rubies are other viable options.
Pearls can make a fantastic centerpiece to a ring, and are much less expensive than diamonds or other gems. You can get diamonds on the side of the pearl to add some sparkle while still keeping the cost down.
Using a birthstone instead of a diamond can also be an economical and personal choice–unless you were born in April, the diamond month.
Use Man-Made Gems
When ChooseFI member Julie Berninger started wearing her moissanite engagement ring, she was worried people would be able to tell it wasn’t a diamond. Now that it’s been three years, she’s realized that no one will ever notice that her ring looks different.
“It seems silly how worried I was at first,” she said.
Julie and her husband bought a moissanite stone from Charles & Colvard for $300 and a setting from a jewelry store. The stone is equal to the size of a one-carat diamond, which would cost between $1,000 and $5,000.
Moissanite is cheaper than diamonds but looks identical to the naked eye. The only way someone might know your ring isn’t made of real diamonds is if they’re a trained gemologist.
It's also a durable gem that’s almost as hard as diamonds. That means your moissanite ring isn’t likely to scratch unless it rubs against a diamond. It’s becoming more popular not only for its affordability, but because it’s more sustainable and conflict-free than diamonds.
An extra benefit is that Moissanite sparkles even more than diamonds because of its higher refractive qualities. At first, Julie thought that would tip people off. Instead, they just chalked it up to the cut of the diamond.
Moissanite is approximately one third the cost of diamonds, though the exact cost will vary depending on the size, clarity and cut. For example, on BrilliantEarth.com, you can buy a one-carat round moissanite ring for $1,835, while a one-carat round diamond ring will cost you $7,635. That’s a 300% savings.
The only thing that might give away your secret is if you get a huge moissanite ring. A large piece of moissanite is more conspicuous and can make it obvious that you’re not wearing a real diamond. Not everyone who wears moissanite is trying to pass it off as a diamond, but it’s something to keep in mind.
Buy Fake Diamonds And Gems
If you’re really not interested in buying an expensive engagement ring but want something basic for pictures, check out rings with fake gems from online vendors like Jeulia. The cost ranges from $65 to $185. Most of the rings are made with sterling silver bands, so they won’t last as long as a gold or platinum setting.
These are also a good frugal alternative if you can’t afford the perfect ring now, but want a placeholder until you can buy something of a higher quality.
Get a Tattoo
A traditional engagement ring isn’t the only permanent symbol of your love. If you really want to show your commitment, you can get matching engagement tattoos on your ring fingers.
Ring tattoos can be fairly cheap, especially if you get something small like an initial or the date of your engagement. Plus, you’ll be in good company: Beyonce has a 4 tattooed on her ring
finger, in tribute to her wedding date of April 4.
When Kelsa Dickey and her husband lost their wedding bands, they both admitted to each other that they hated wearing their rings. They decided not to replace them, but still wanted something to show their love and commitment.
“We started to ask–What could we do or wear that wasn't jewelry but still showed we were married?’” she said.
They ended up getting a tattoo of an infinity symbol on their ring fingers. The tattoos cost a couple hundred dollars, far less than their original rings.
Buy Silicone Rings
Silicone rings have come a long way, and are no longer just a practical alternative to diamond rings. Companies like Qalo sell silicone rings that come in shades like pink, lavender, and mauve. They also feature flower designs or the word “love” engraved on the ring.
Rings range from $4.78 to $39.95. Qalo also offers customization options, so you can have your partner’s name inscribed on the ring. You can also look for silicone options on Etsy or local retailers.
Silicone rings are popular for women who do a lot of manual labor or need to constantly wash their hands. I once met an archaeologist who told me how she lost her ring on a dig. Since then, she wears a silicone ring.
How To Save On A Diamond Engagement Ring
Buy A Vintage Ring
Antique rings are more unique than what you’ll find in today’s mass-market jewelry stores, and they can also be a good bargain.
You can find vintage rings at local consignment stores, jewelry stores or online through Etsy or eBay. You can even check out pawn shops. Make sure to only buy through reputable dealers and check the quality at a real jeweler.
“My husband bought my absolutely beautiful princess cut diamond ring with halo setting at a pawn shop,” ChooseFI member Kamella Westmoreland said. “No one ever believes he got this beautiful gem for $400.”
Use a credit card for the purchase so you can dispute the charge if the ring doesn’t end up passing muster. Ask for a certificate of authenticity before you buy the ring.
Make sure to look for real vintage and antique rings, instead of new rings designed in old-fashioned styles. You only save money if you buy a genuinely old ring, not just a new ring in an Art Deco style.
ChooseFI member Alexandria Costello Matwijiw and her husband bought their wedding bands and her engagement ring at an estate jewelry store. He got a gold wedding band from the 19th century, and she found a 1940s platinum engagement ring and band.
“We spent more than we wanted, but kept it under $1,800 for everything,” she said.
Check Out Costco
Most people associate Costco with $5 rotisserie chicken, cases of toilet paper or 27-pound buckets of macaroni and cheese, but the quality of their jewelry is as reliable as their canned goods.
Costco sells diamond rings in a variety of styles, including halo, solitaire and baguette. Their offerings are aimed at the budget-conscious, starting at $999.
A .70 carat round solitaire diamond ring in a platinum setting costs $2,999.99 at Costco, while a Tiffany’s .75 carat round solitaire diamond in a white gold setting costs $3,999.99. The Costco ring is an even better deal because platinum is more expensive than white gold.
Costco accepts returns for their jewelry and offers a 100% satisfaction guarantee. You have to be a Costco member to shop there, and a membership costs $60 for a basic pass. If you have a friend who’s a member, you can always go with them to check out the jewelry before signing up for your own membership.
Watch For Carat Sizes
If you want a real diamond at a frugal cost, it pays to be nitpicky. One of the biggest determining factors in how much a diamond engagement ring costs is the carat, or weight, of the diamond.
A .10 carat difference can have a huge impact on the price, without being visible to the naked eye. Shoppers pay an average of 30% more for each .1 carat, even though some of that difference will be in the weight and not in the width. That means the difference won’t be visible to most people.
A solitaire ring with a round-cut .33 carat diamond in a white-gold setting costs $699.99 at Jared, while a .5 carat ring in the same setting costs $1,299.99. Unless you have hawk eyes, you’re unlikely to notice the difference–but your wallet will.
It’s good to understand what kind of carat size you’d like before shopping online. You might realize a .5 carat ring is too big, while a .25 carat is slightly too small. Look at different sizes in-store before buying a ring online.
Look For Pre-Owned Rings Online
Sites like Tradesy.com and I Do, Now I Don’t offer pre-owned rings for a huge discount and include a large range of retailers and designers.
Currently, you can find a one-carat Tiffany & Co platinum round diamond solitaire engagement ring for $7,999. A similar new ring from Tiffany’s website currently retails for $12,900. That’s a savings of 37%.
You can also shop on eBay for pre-owned rings. Look for eBay verified users, which means the site has vetted the vendor thoroughly. Read their reviews to see what past customers have said.
Use Previously Owned Gems
If your grandmother gave you a pair of diamond earrings that you never wear, you can have a jeweler convert those gems into an engagement ring. Find a local jeweler who has experience doing this. You can come in with ideas on what kind of ring you want, but might have to be flexible on the design.
You’ll still have to pay for the setting, the labor and any other additional gems. Regardless, this is a good strategy if you have a piece of jewelry with a beautiful gem you don’t want to waste. You can compare prices and ideas by visiting a few different local jewelers to review your options.
Chrissy Cutting used this strategy to create her engagement ring.
“We used a pile of family gold for our rings,” she said. “We took old gold that no one was using or would use to a jeweler and had it melted down.”
The jeweler added another metal to make it white gold and set her husband's grandmother's diamond into the setting. She said it cost $500 for the process.
If you have a lot of leftover jewelry that doesn’t have a sentimental attachment, you can recycle it into a new engagement ring.
Buy A Lab-Grown Diamond
Lab-grown diamonds are different than traditional diamonds because they’re not mined from the earth. They’re also conflict-free, meaning no people were harmed or exploited in the sourcing of the diamonds.
Lab-grown diamonds are also between 30% and 80% less expensive than mined diamonds, making them the perfect balance between frugality and tradition. A 1.03 carat lab-grown diamond ring in a white gold setting costs $1,003 on DiamondNexus. A comparable one-carat diamond ring in a white gold setting costs $3,936 from BlueNile.com.
Buy From An Online Vendor
Whether you want a traditional diamond ring or a more unique gemstone, you’re likely better off buying online.
Online jewelry vendors like BlueNile, Ritani, and James Allen can be up to 35% less expensive than a brick-and-mortar store. Physical retailers have to pay for rent, utilities, and security, while an online jeweler can forego that overhead and pass on the savings to their customers. There are obvious advantages to trying on rings in person, but it’s usually more cost-effective to buy them online.
You start by selecting a setting and choosing a gemstone. If you know what kind of ring you want, you can save time and avoid dealing with a chatty salesman.
Some will offer 10% off or a $100 credit just for signing up for their email list. You can also use this to monitor prices for a few weeks or months. You never know when a sale or special deal will pop up.
BlueNile also has a price-match guarantee, so if you see the same stone or ring from a different store, you can ask them to match the lower price.
Other Ways To Save On Engagement Rings
Always use a credit card when buying a large purchase like an engagement ring. The credit card will provide some purchase protection if the ring isn’t quite as advertised. If you have a rewards card, you may also earn some cash back, points or miles when you make the purchase.
Compare different cuts and don’t have your heart set on a particular cut. Solitaire rings or rings that only have one stone are usually less expensive because they don’t have any other gems.
Be ready to haggle with the salesman if you’re shopping at a jewelry store. They may be willing to give a discount, especially if you’re buying during an off-peak month.
Always compare the metal in the setting. White gold and gold are initially less expensive than platinum, but white gold has to be redipped every few years to maintain its shade. This process costs between $40 and $150 depending on where you go. In this case, it may be less expensive to buy a platinum setting now instead of paying to redip every few years.