Social norms advise budgeting 2-3 months of salary for an engagement ring, but how does this actually hold up among buyers?
Marriage proposals and weddings come with much fanfare—a big part of which involves the rings.
Traditional social norms advise budgeting 2-3 months of salary for an engagement band, but how does this actually hold up among buyers?
According to a study by The Knot, the average cost of an engagement ring is $5,680, while other research shows that the median American spends roughly 4% of their annual pay (or two weeks’ worth of pay) on a ring.
So what’s the deal? How much should an engagement ring actually cost?
We spoke with 15 women to get a better idea of how much cost can vary and why it does or doesn’t matter.
Name/Job: Alaina, arts nonprofit management
Cost of Engagement Ring: Less than $500 at a Macy’s going-out-of-business sale!
Did the cost matter? It’s a beautiful diamond and aquamarine estate sale ring that makes me smile every time I put it on. I had just finished undergrad for classical vocal performance at the time, and my wife had just finished grad school, so we were broke and I was thrilled to have something so gorgeous without her going into debt to buy it.
What does your ring mean to you? I still wear it every day. We didn’t get new wedding bands; we just had our friends and family “bless” our rings at the ceremony.
Name/Job: Lyndsay, stay-at-home mom
Cost of Engagement Ring: $12,000
Did the cost matter? I didn’t choose any of it or set any expectations.
What does your ring mean to you? I simply said I will be wearing it every day for the rest of my life so please buy anything but gold, as I don’t wear gold!
Name/Job: Justine, market research project manager
Cost of Engagement Ring: $7,000—however, it was appraised at $10,000. My husband’s grandfather left each of his grandchildren some platinum. So my husband (fiancé at the time, of course) used his grandfather’s platinum to make my engagement ring.
Did cost matter to you? No, the cost did not matter to me. I will say, when I got engaged, it was difficult not to try to compare your ring to other people’s. However, I knew that mine was extra special and I valued the effort that was put into it rather than the amount of money it cost.
What does your ring mean to you? The ring truly means a lot to me. It is a symbol of love and commitment. Of course, our relationship means more than the ring itself… However, I would be devastated if I were to lose my ring, since it is one of a kind.
Name/Job: Lauren, brand strategist
Cost of Engagement Ring: $20
Did cost matter to you? It’s sexist and weird (to me, no judgments) that men wear one simple ring but women wear two, and hers are usually way more expensive and elaborate. How is that equal? So we got unadorned matching titanium bands.
What does your ring mean to you? There were lots of practical pros, but the symbolic importance of equality was our #1 motivating factor. Fuck benevolent sexism. If I wanna wear fancy rings, I buy them myself and wear them on my middle finger so people who don’t use their turn signals can see me shine.
Name/Job: Aimée, veterinarian
Cost of Engagement Ring: $2,000
Did the cost matter? It doesn’t matter to me… In fact, now that I’m interested in financial independence, it matters even less so. I think I’d advocate for something even cheaper now. I thought it was quite sexy my husband used investments to pay for the ring as a student.
What does your ring mean to you? The ring to me, is really just a symbol of commitment, and the cost is irrelevant.
Name/Job: Stephanie, healthcare consultant
Cost of Engagement Ring: $20,000
Did the cost matter? Absolutely not. I was beyond excited to be able to say yes to the love of my life! When we spoke about getting engaged, I told him that I didn’t need anything fancy but rather, I wanted something that was special to us. I didn’t want him to go into debt buying the ring because that would be silly and irresponsible. He’s a numbers guy and budgets accordingly so I never thought it would happen, and it didn’t, but he saved all his extra money while I finished school.
What does your ring mean to you? My ring means the world to me! I love it. It’s not the biggest diamond, but it sure is sparkly and that mattered more to me. Our financial situation 2-3 years post-college was much different than it is now almost 10 years out of school. We have grown in our careers and excelled exponentially.
He jokes about an upgrade after “10 years” but there is no way I would give up this ring for something he would consider an upgrade. This ring has a lot of sweat, tears, late nights working, and giving up fun things to save up for it. The intention and thoughtfulness behind this ring (he even custom designed it) outweighs its monetary value tenfold.
Name/Job: Heidi, professor
Cost of Engagement Ring: $0
Did the cost matter? My mother gave me a ring when I graduated from med school. It’s a 1-carat round diamond mounted on a very ’70s flower mounting. It’s beautiful. My mother received it as a gift from my father as her own law school graduation gift. It was in a pendant and she didn’t like it as that so she mounted it on a ring. My husband and I agreed it was hard to top or even match, and I didn’t want to wear two rings.
What does your ring mean to you? The history of how engagement rings came to be is icky to us.
Name/Job: Leah, stay-at-home mom
Cost of Engagement Ring: Cost was $30ish for both my ring and his.
Did the cost matter? The only way that cost would have mattered to me is if he’d spent a lot… I don’t wear much jewelry and am ridiculously picky. At the time, we were students and worked part-time for an airline.
What does your ring mean to you? He bought the silver and made us rings in his college metalworking class. (Though it’s more of a wedding ring, because we were never really engaged.) He made it with a mobius strip, a symbol of his commitment (never-ending). I think it’s the most romantic thing he’s done.
Name: Courtney, higher ed project manager
Cost of Engagement Ring: $0—opted for an engagement kayak instead. Diamonds don’t float!
Did the cost matter? Maybe I’m too into my retirement planning, but the thought of a $2,000 ring at 30 is roughly $25,000 at 65, like half a year of expenses. Not going for a ring meant that we could retire half a year earlier!
What does your ring mean to you? I was happy to bypass the social pressures of the engagement ring thing, plus very happy with my decision for a bunch of social, political and environmental reasons. Engagement kayak is a thing that brings us together and takes us on adventures, which is very healthy for our relationship.
Name/Job: Connie, freelancer
Cost of Engagement Ring: My engagement band was $1,500 and my wedding band was $880 (got it on sale from $1,259!).
Did cost matter to you? My husband is in the military aka he barely makes anything, so while I always dreamed of a giant, sparkly ring, I knew that wasn’t feasible. I didn’t want him to go into more debt than he already was in, so I’m happy that we’ve been able to pay it off super fast and it wasn’t a total reach to do so!
What does your ring mean to you? I won’t lie and say there aren’t moments that I look down at it and wish it were a little bigger (it’s a 1/2 carat, 6-prong solitaire, for reference) but then I remember what it symbolizes—the long distance, the deployments, traveling together, our national post-deployment engagement, our wedding, our love—and it brings the biggest smile to my face.
We’ve talked about “upgrading” it at some point but I’m the sentimental type, and I don’t know if I could ever part ways with it—it means too much and is definitely more than just an accessory I happen to put on every day.
Name/Job: Janis, stay-at-home-mom
Cost of Engagement Ring: $300ish
Did the cost matter? I begged him not to get me a ring. I don’t wear jewelry. First one cost $300ish. It was a green amethyst heart (because green is my favorite color) but two years later, after my second pregnancy, I took it off at a funeral (because my fingers were swollen) and it was lost. He bought a replacement (and claimed it was only $175), and now I mostly keep it in a drawer because I’m scared to lose it again. I wear zero jewelry and makeup because it’s just not me.
What does your ring mean to you? The only thing this ring symbolizes to me is my husband not listening to me.
Name/Job: Jenny, teacher
Cost of Engagement Ring: $1,000
Did the cost matter? At the time, 10 years ago, I felt torn between feeling ashamed that we couldn’t afford more and being OK with it because to get a bigger one would’ve been 10 times that, and that felt ridiculous with all we could get with that kind of money.
What does your ring mean to you? Multiple friends commented on it being small. Now I don’t care what they say or think. I love my ring—I feel like it tells a story of when we got engaged, and I absolutely love the design.
Name/Job: Lindsay, nurse practitioner
Cost of Engagement Ring: I think around $4,000, but worth $6,500.
Did the cost matter? Cost didn’t matter at all, and I had no choice or opinion in his choosing.
What does your ring mean to you? Honestly, I wouldn’t get rid of it, but I haven’t worn it more than a handful of times in three years. Didn’t fit when I was pregnant and I’ve had two kids in just over two years, and just out of the habit. My husband never wears his, either.
Name/Job: Aurelia, writer/accountant
Cost of Engagement Ring: $270
Did the cost matter? I had my husband return the $1,300 ring he bought before proposing and get a cheaper one. Cost did not matter, neither of us had debt, but I felt even $270 was a lot for something I wouldn’t wear much.
What does your ring mean to you? We have a very active lifestyle and I don’t wear jewelry. The engagement ring and wedding band only come out of the jewelry box for visits to his family or mine.
Name/Job: Kirstie, event planner
Cost of Engagement Ring: $3,000
Did the cost matter? My original ring was expensive but I wanted something different, so my fiancé and I went together after the surprise engagement and got a ring I loved.
What does your ring mean to you? It means so much that I got to design it with him and be a part of the process. He loves the new ring, too, so it feels extra special to wear every day.