I have to say that I love this question because this is one of those issues I could talk about forever. (Yeah, I know I can talk about almost anything forever, but this is different.) It’s just—well, you’ll see.
You are pretty. Your site is seriously brilliant and very helpful. I thought twice about purchasing toilet bowl cleaner at wal-mart today, your words were in the back of my mind. I totally breezed by the batteries that were like 4AA for 5 bucks! I thank you for that.
OK, here is my non-general finance question, forgive me:
Engagement ring? A good friend desperately wantes to marry his wonderful gal, but is totally tight on cash. I worry he’ll end up with something she will be less than thrilled with due to cost. (not that she’s greedy, totally not) Do you have any experience with jewelry?
Ahhhh, engagement rings. If there’s another issue that causes men to gnash their teeth and women to weep the way this does, I can’t think of it. Just let me put on my asbsestos suit, here….
Okay. Let me just say right up front that I may not actually be a girl, because there’s a lot about this issue that I Just Don’t Get. Some of that is because I’m very pragmatic about money, sure. Some of it might be because there are just a lot of things I worry about more than diamonds, like whether or not a potential mate is capable of getting his dirty socks into the hamper. But there is one thing I can say here with absolute certainty:
Couples should talk about this stuff.
A man would be stupid to buy me a big diamond. (Quite frankly, for that kind of money, I’d rather have a lawn tractor. Yes, it is a wonder I’ve not been snatched up.) And in a perfect world, yeah, he’d know that, but maybe some discussion is required to be clear. Likewise, some women really want the big diamond. Some women would be crushed not to receive The Perfect Ring Of Her Hopes And Dreams and would want to help pick it out, and others feel very strongly that the man should pick out the perfect ring all on his own or he doesn’t really know and love her.
(Guys, allow me to apologize on behalf of the entire female species. This is one time I would not wanna be in your shoes.)
So the first step, guys, is to figure out what she wants, in general. Hint around, if you must, or just come right out with it, or—if that feels like it would be a violation of her expectations and really you never talk anyway—pump her friends/family for info. But I submit to you that if you have no idea what she wants—or the two of you have vastly different ideas about what makes sense—you may want to rethink that whole marriage thing. Just sayin’.
Okay, that said? Let’s assume she wants a ring. We’ll talk about buying diamonds in a minute. Let’s review some other options, first.
Family jewelry. Is there a meaningful ring in either your family or even hers (this depends on how close you are to her family) that might be suitable? If there’s a ring that’s available and holds some meaning but is ugly (hey, it happens), don’t rule out having the stone(s) set into something more modern/pretty. That’s also a possibility for making a ring out of earrings or a necklace, if there’s a family piece available. This is a nice option because it’s meaningful as well as significantly cheaper.
There are other gems besides diamonds. Go back to that bolded line up there about discussing things. Maybe she wants a diamond, the end, and you can skip this part. Maybe you’re thrilled to discover that she really loves emeralds, or lapis lazuli, or pink amethysts. You won’t know unless you ask. A diamond is traditional, yes, but it’s not the only option.
Something old, something new. There are some beautiful finds to be had at estate sales or antique stores, and not everything is hugely expensive. You’ll tend to find (in general; this is not a hard and fast rule) smaller stones but more intricate metalwork. Again, this may not be an option given her preferences, but it’s worth considering.
Jewelry as art. This isn’t a cheap option, per se, but depending on her taste it’s something to consider: For the cost of a sizeable diamond in a plain band, you could likely buy a one-of-a-kind piece from a local artisan. If she’s into that sort of thing, don’t overlook your “artsy” options.
Now, let’s get back to diamonds. Let’s say you’re die-hard traditionalists and nothing other than the perfect solitaire will do. Now you’re looking to get the most for your money, or maybe just to make sure she doesn’t start hitting you when you open up that little velvet box.
Buying a diamond is no less complicated than buying a car. Educate yourself beforehand so you know what you’re doing. You wouldn’t walk into a car dealership and say, “Oh, well, it’s got four wheels… and it’s really pretty… okay! I’ll take it!” You don’t want to walk into a jewelry store and end up with an unexamined purchase, either. Learn how to look at diamonds and what all of the terms mean before you head out.
Let’s take a break for a minute. I’ve pointed out that I’m not exactly a huge fan of diamonds. The flip side of that is this: I believe that if you’re going to go ahead and invest in diamonds, you should buy quality. Hey, they cost a lot pretty much no matter what. You might as well get the best for your money.
That means that I’m not a big fan of mall stores for diamonds. It’s not impossible to find something high-quality there, but it’s a lot harder than at an independently-owned jeweler. Here’s a handy litmus test for you: Can you look at the diamonds loose, at the store? If all the diamonds are mounted, you can’t really get a good look at them, and it also tends to be the mark of a store carrying mid-quality, mass-produced jewelry. Avoid.
(Those are also the sorts of stores where everything is periodically 50% off, which is your first clue that their regular prices have no basis whatsoever in reality.)
Ask around. There are bound to be some jewelry places near you known for quality and decent prices.
What about online shopping? Well, yeah… there are certainly deals to be found. This is one area where I just don’t recommend it, though. Dude. This is an engagement ring. A symbol of pledging your lives together, blah blah blah. (Oops, sorry.) You want to see it in person before you buy it. The only exception I would make to this rule would be if you find a mass-produced ring you love (to which I say a tolerant “ick”) and you’re able to find it online cheaper than the store where you saw it. But in general? No.
A few final notes:
Will finances be changing? Is your friend who is tight on cash likely to be more flush in the not-too-distant future? Maybe they hold off on the actual ring for now, if buying something bigger seems more important than having something this very second.
Is buying a ring going to cause hardship? If buying a ring means that the newly engaged couple has no money for a house, or whatever, then is it really important? Again, if the bride-to-be requires it but it creates an impossible financial situation… think less about the ring and more about your priorities.
Are you in a position to finance (wisely)? Very few men walk into a store and plunk down cash for a diamond. Just about everywhere will offer financing programs. As with any type of loan, you need to consider the terms and read the fine print carefully, but if this is a priority to the couple (worthy of borrowing money), that’s something to consider. But for heaven’s sake DO NOT put a diamond on your 19.5% interest rate credit card or I will come over there and beat you to death… assuming your fiancee hasn’t already done so.