How Much to Spend on an Engagement Ring [Average Cost 2020]

The average engagement ring costs over $5,000 and the average wedding ring costs close to $1,000.

Anja Winikka
July 21, 2021
Couples

The average engagement ring costs over $5,000 — more than most Americans have in their savings accounts. And that’s not the end of ring expenses: The average wedding ring costs close to $1,000.

Why so much for an engagement ring? It’s hard to say no to a beautiful ring, so a stunning piece of jewelry might sooth pre-proposal jitters.

If you’re buying an engagement ring, remember: This is a two-person project. Don’t start shopping until you have an idea of what your (hopefully) soon-to-be fiance wants. No matter how much you spend on an engagement ring, you’ll get more out of the whole experience if you do your homework.

Then, start thinking about your budget.

Outdated “Salary Rule” Myths

The good news: You don’t have to spend two months’ salary on an engagement ring. You also don’t have to follow a one-month salary rule, or a two-week salary rule. There are no real “rules” about how much money to spend. Your salary isn’t the complete picture of your financial situation —  after all, many couples are still paying off student loans.

Instead of focusing on spending enough, purchase an engagement ring that you know your fiance will love and that won’t max out your credit card.

The Origin of the Two-Month Salary Rule

Why do we think we need to spend thousands of dollars on an engagement ring? Easy: Marketing.

International diamond titan De Beers controlled most of the diamond market in the early 20th century. Following the Depression, they promoted the idea that a diamond ring was an important investment. This helped to justify the price at a time many Americans were down on their luck. (Unfortunately, diamonds always depreciate in value.)

In the 1930s, DeBeers suggested a diamond engagement ring should cost a month’s salary. They upped the ante a few decades later. One ad from the 1980s featured a photo of a glamorous woman wearing a diamond ring, above the words: “You can’t look at Jane and tell me she’s not worth two months’ salary.”

Don’t fall for it! You can’t put a dollar amount on your future spouse. Buy a ring that you and your fiance think is beautiful, and then start saving for the wedding.

Types of Engagement Rings

Diamond engagement rings are still by far the most popular type of engagement rings. Demand drives up the price, even though white diamonds aren’t that rare. Once again, we have De Beers to thank: After miners discovered a large white diamond mine in South Africa, De Beers used their control over the mines to limit the supply and keep their prices high.

Emeralds, rubies, sapphires, and colored diamonds obviously make lovely engagement rings. The “diamonds are forever” slogan is just that — a slogan. Plenty of other stones will keep their sparkle for many generations.

What Does the Average Engagement Ring Cost?

Studies have pinpointed the national average cost of engagement rings at $5,500. But what does the average really mean for you? If you read stories from real people about what their engagement rings cost, you’ll see reports from people who spent over $10,000, but it’s also common to spend nothing, or just a few hundred dollars. (You’ll also see plenty of regrets from big spenders.)

According to a survey from The New York Times, the median engagement ring — which is more representative of the majority — costs the equivalent of two weeks’ salary.

How Can I Save Money?

  • “Solitaire” rings have only one stone. Having just one show-stopping gem and no side stones can shave quite a few dollars off the price.
  • A fraction of a milligram can make a huge difference in the price of a diamond ring. If you love a ring that’s too expensive, ask if there is a similar option with a smaller carat size.
  • Similarly, the quality of gold can save several hundred dollars. 18K gold is substantially more expensive than 10K gold.
  • If you want a diamond, the easiest way to save money is to opt for a less-expensive dupe. Not many people could tell the difference between a diamond and morganite, moissanite, or cubic zirconia.

Where Can I Buy Affordable Engagement Rings?

If you don’t have your own family heirloom, consider snagging someone else’s. Ask your jeweler if they have a selection of estate jewelry. “Estate” is a fancy way of saying second-hand. It’s better to buy these from a reputable jeweler than an estate sale — unless you’re an expert, it’s impossible to assess a gem on your own.

Reputable auctions also often sell gorgeous second-hand jewelry that has been appraised by a professional.

Is it Safe to Buy a Diamond Engagement Ring Online?

Most people still choose to buy their rings in-store, at national retailers like Jared’s and Kay Jewelers. But if you want a diamond, you can find cheaper diamond engagement rings online than in a brick-and-mortar store. You’ll also have a wider selection.

Sites like James Allen, Blue Nile, and Brilliant Earth have good reputations and allow you to customize your ring. Etsy also  has a wide selection of customizable options, as well as antique and vintage rings.

That said, there are plenty of scams online  — look out for suspicious dealers, especially on EBay and Craigslist. Your gem should come with a certification from the Gemological Institute of America, the American Gem Society, or the European Gemological Institute. Steer clear of any sellers that sell uncertified diamonds. They may offer lines like, “You’re paying for a diamond, not a piece of paper.” The certificate is the only way you can be sure of the diamond’s value.

Most importantly, make sure your ring comes with a solid return policy.

The Four C’s of Diamonds

These are the four elements that an appraiser looks at when determining a diamond’s quality.

Color

The more expensive the diamond, the less color shines through it. According to the Gemological Institute of America, “A chemically pure and structurally perfect diamond has no hue, like a drop of pure water.” Cheaper diamonds throw off a yellowish tint, while a lookalike like cubic zirconia will give off an array of different colors.

Clarity

Clarity refers to the presence of natural flaws within the diamond that affect its brilliance. These flaws are a natural part of the diamond’s formation. Sometimes flaws are visible to the naked eye, but often they are too small to see without a 10x microscope.

Cut

The diamond’s cut affects its ability to reflect light. This factor depends on the skill of the craftsman who cut the diamond. (Note: This does not refer to the diamond’s shape, e.g., square, round, pear, marquis, etc.)

Carat

One carat equals 200 milligrams. The average engagement ring diamond features a one-carat diamond.

Wedding Bands

Don’t forget to save room in your budget for the wedding bands!

The average wedding ring cost is significantly less than an engagement ring. For men, the average is around $500, and for women it’s closer to $1,000. Most people choose from platinum, gold, silver, rose gold, or white gold. Platinum is the hardest of these materials, and therefore the most expensive. Gold, silver, and white gold tarnish much more easily. White gold is simply gold coated in a material called rhodium which will fade after a couple of years. But getting your ring refreshed just takes a trip to the jewelers, where they can recoat and polish as needed.

I Can’t Afford a Ring. Now What?

Don’t let the cost of an engagement ring stop you from getting married. Plenty of couples opt for a place-holder ring. Buy an affordable ring now, with the understanding that you’ll purchase something more glamorous when it fits your budget. It’s just another reason to look forward to anniversary gifts!

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Anja Winikka has spent more than 15 years marketing to and engaging with both engaged couples and the small businesses that power the weddi