Who Pays For The Engagement Ring?

November 13, 2019 – Posted in: Jewelry Blog

Ask a traditionalist who pays for the ring, and they likely will probably look at you with contempt. There’s absolutely no shame in sticking to the opinion that the man buys the engagement ring, and makes a formal proposal, of course. But ask many modern couples, however, and the answer may be very different.

But the buying of an engagement ring is neither the start nor the finish of the engagement process. What was a fairly simple – if very formal – event, can now take almost any form. And that means the buying of the ring itself has evolved every bit as much.

The Cost of a Diamond Engagement Ring

Engagement Ring with Onyx halo and Diamond

In our recent survey that we published a few months ago, when asked, most couples said they expect to spend between $7,000 and $8,000 for the ring when the time came.

It is important to note that although the price listed above may seem higher than what you would have imagined, the reason is that the higher tier engagement rings bring up the overall average price.

The lower $4,500 – $5,000 figure is probably in tune with the average engagement ring buyer.

How Advertising Changed The World of Engagement Rings

Times Square Ads Wedding

The average has risen broadly in line with the cost of inflation over the last 30 years. Back in the 1930s, De Beers was the undisputed king of the diamond. Around 75% of all diamonds which came to market came from a De Beers mine but, until then, they had remained very much an elite consumable. If you wanted a diamond, you had to have the money on hand to pay for it. This meant that few ordinary people ever saw a diamond up close. In fact, up until the 1930s, most engagement rings had contained gemstones other than diamonds. But then the Great Depression hit, and diamonds suffered more than most products. The crisis left a lot of rich people much less so, and De Beers saw diamonds piling up in storage, with no buyers to be found.

As the depression lingered on through the 1930s, De Beers desperately needed to start unloading diamond into the marketplace and came up with a sales pitch centered around a month’s salary being an appropriate price to pay for a diamond engagement ring.

They also used Hollywood to sell the stones for them. They gave huge diamonds to celebrities on the premise that the big ones would sell the little ones. Although successful, to a point, the diamond market remained depressed long after other markets recovered. But, in 1947, ad agency NW Ayer came up with the slogan “A diamond is forever”. The rest, of course, is history. It is still a slogan used today and is universally linked to diamond engagement rings.

The Wall Street Effect

Wall Street and Engagement Rings

The 1980s saw a huge boom in the affluence of the upper-middle-class demographic. Driven by huge gains in financial markets, chasing money became America’s favorite pastime. It meant that all previous data suddenly looked old and irrelevant. It also meant that people had more money with which to buy bigger diamond engagement rings.

By the 1980s, the use of diamonds in engagement rings had risen from the 10% mark in the 1930s to over 80%. At this point, De Beers looked to exploit the spending boom and upped the stakes. They suggested that one month’s salary would no longer cut it. Now, they said, it would take two month’s pay. A figure which is borne out by that average price, whether entirely accurate or not.

Marriage is Changing

Marriage with horizon

Until fairly recently, almost all engagements followed a tried and tested path. A man would buy an engagement ring, choose his moment, and propose to his hopefully-soon-to-be-fiancée. But the last 20 years has seen a lot of changes both in society and, specifically, in becoming engaged. The last 20 years have seen an almost seismic shift in how marriage is perceived and practiced in the US.

What it means today is that any engagement is designed and executed entirely at the whim of those involved. Yes, some remain very traditional in manner, but more and more are becoming events in and of themselves. There are countless examples on YouTube of everything from custom made movies to flash mob proposals and grand musical numbers.

But what does this mean for the actual buying of the engagement ring?

What You Should Pay For An Engagement Ring

Aspen ring aquamarine sapphire and diamonds halo triple wire

Despite the evidence to hand, you should start by ignoring that average price tag, or any reference to two month’s salary. An average is just that. It isn’t a figure to aim for or aspire to in any way. It may be that $7,000 is way beyond you, or might just be loose change. The point is that we only get that average by some people paying more, and some paying less.

You should also try and avoid the lure of diamond weight. Naturally enough, as diamonds get bigger they get more expensive. But it isn’t a steady rise. Past 2 carats, the availability of diamonds becomes much lower. This means, of course, that the price becomes much higher, and on a much steeper curve. The vast majority – around 98% – of diamond engagement rings are actually under 2ct. Indeed, the average size of the diamond in all engagement rings sold is around 1ct. This is still a sizeable diamond, in relative terms, but it contradicts everything we see and hear from TV and movies.

The easy answer to the question of price is that you should pay what you can afford. Yes, it really is that simple.

In fact, we recently published an engagement ring budget calculator that helps determine the engagement ring budget based on what the couple can actually afford.

The Rise of Engagement Rings For Men

Engagement Ring for Man

Since the turn of the millennium, we have seen more and more men wearing engagement rings. The market has been tested several times over the last 80 years, or so, but with little success.

It may be related to the fact that, until the 1990s, 70% of Americans still felt that household responsibilities should be divided along gender lines. The man had his role, the woman had hers, and never the twain shall meet. But things changed rapidly as we moved towards the year 2000. Today, the figure is reversed, with over 70% of Americans believing that any relationship is an equal partnership on all matters.

According to a survey undertaken by one of the leading wedding websites, The Knot, almost 5% of engagements now involve the exchanging of rings between both parties. This number would have been unthinkable even a short time ago. It is also likely to rise sharply in the years to come.

One point to note, though, on the topic of engagement rings for men. If you ever use the term “Mangagement Ring”, nobody will ever want to marry you.

So, Who Should Pay for the Engagement Ring?

Man and Woman with Engagement Ring Proposal

Ah, the big question, taking into account all we’ve said already. In its simplest form, the answer is no more than “Whoever wants or needs to”. It isn’t quite so simple, obviously, but it isn’t actually all that far off the mark either.

In an exchange of rings, it is likely to be as straightforward as each person buying the ring for their partner. But what do we know about the other 95% of couples, where the engagement ring is the preserve of the woman?

The world has changed in the last 30 years, in so many ways. One of those is how we structure our long term relationships. No longer do couples routinely live apart until they are married. Instead, we cohabit more and more, before the wedding. We’re already sharing the cost of energy, groceries, cable TV and everything else.

Is it, then, such a surprise that more and more of us are sharing the cost of engagement rings? Just like it is no longer is it the sole responsibility of the man to pay the bills, so it is no longer his sole responsibility to pay for the engagement ring. Now, it is often a joint exercise, with shopping trips planned around the purchase.

That being said, you should plan out how it is going to be paid. It is never healthy to leave a financial commitment up-in-the-air. Here are some of the basic payment formats:

  • 50% each. The man and the woman both put in half the money for both rings.
  • 100% on the man. This is old-school, but still a lot more common than you’d believe. Many couples are just both happier with the man shouldering the entire financial responsibility.
  • 100% on the woman. Even for very-modern couples, this is rare. Usually, the man will want to contribute towards the ring, and the woman will also want him to be at least a minor financial partner on the ring. But if he doesn’t have the money, and she does, and she wants a fancy ring, this will usually be how it happens.
  • 75% (or 80%) on the man and 25% (or 20%) on the woman. This is also a very popular format.
  • 100% on the man’s parents. This is also very common, especially with a couple that is younger and less financially established. This is a carry-on from the traditional expectation that it is the man’s responsibility to purchase the ring.

Shopping for the ring (or rings) can be a wonderful experience. It is an exciting period for both, with the ring selection being the pinnacle of the engagement process. Just make sure that you have a clear picture of who is paying what, or it can be very unpleasant for everyone involved.

Final Notes

Drawing of Engagement Ring with Pen

First, and this is such a vital point that we can’t emphasize it strongly enough, if you want to be traditional with your engagement, don’t let us or anybody else stop you. If you want to buy a ring and go down on one knee, do so. Just because the world outside is doing different things, it doesn’t mean you should as well. Each and every one of us is unique, and it’s this uniqueness that makes the world what it is. Follow your heart, not convention or statistics.

Don’t be afraid to discuss the subject of engagement rings with your partner. If you already live together, marriage may not be a new topic. Even if you haven’t discussed it formally, it’s likely that you both see it as a natural conclusion to the relationship.

Being engaged to be married really does change everything. It makes the next year or two very different to what has gone before. But that doesn’t mean you should overthink the getting engaged part, itself. It can be as simple, and as intimate, as you want it to be. If you want a big party, have a big party. If you want a quiet romantic dinner, do that.

Throughout your relationship, you have taken different paths to get to this point. With your engagement, you will be both walking the same road. It is a glorious, wonderful road to walk, so start it your way.