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Ask Team Practical: Engagement Ring Budget

How much do you spend?

I was really inspired by the recent post about co-proposing. I’ve been dating my boyfriend for seven years and we’re planning on getting engaged this summer. But the longer we’re together, and the more we talk about it, the less I’m sure a “surprise” proposal is what feels right. But then again I’m worried I’ll regret not having that “experience.” At the very least, I’ve been considering getting him a gift too. Whether it’s a post-engagement gift or a token of a joint marriage proposal I’m not really sure. But I like the idea that we both have skin in the game, not just that I’m waiting for him to spend lots of money on me. After all, he’s a student and I have a salary, so why should he be the only one who has to dip into his savings to mark our intention to get married?

The problem is, I have no idea how much to spend. I know rules like three-month’s salary are outdated (and seem insane), but I feel like I need SOME kind of guideline. Should I spend what I think he’s spending, should I not let it go over a certain percentage of my savings? When you’re already considering spending more money on something than you’ve ever spent on one thing before, it’s hard to get perspective.

Also, I feel like any amount I spend will seem like too much to my friends and family (and me?), because while we’re conditioned to think it’s okay to blow tons of money on a diamond, I feel like I have less cultural backup to justify spending as much on a gift for him. And it’s hard to shake the idea that I should save my money for more practical things, like a house, or just other joint fun things like travel or the wedding itself.

I need some guidance!

Sincerely,

Concerned About Spending Highly

Dear CASH,

Money is personal. Rules and traditions and standards about that sort of thing are kind of silly, considering all of us have such vastly different financial backgrounds, income, and relationships to money. Right? I’m all for tradition. But tradition that mandates that I spend a certain amount can kiss my butt (and its accompanying empty pockets).

So, spend whatever you want. Don’t let that word “engagement” fool you; this is like buying any other sort of gift you’ve ever bought. Think about what he’d like and think about how much you could spend without skipping on rent or feeling like you might vomit. That’s it. I know weddings feel like they warp your sense of finance, but only because (I’m assuming) you don’t have much experience paying for dinner for two hundred people or for six hours of professional photography. It’s hard to know what those things are worth. But, you do know how to buy presents. And that old, “It’s the thought that counts,” sentiment was made for this situation. An engagement ring is worth more than any other sort of ring in meaning, sure, but doesn’t necessarily need to be worth more money.

That’s it for the “universal truth” portion of this week’s Ask Team Practical. Now, I’m just going to tell you what works for my marriage (and hopefully, the rest of you readers will jump in with your gift-budgeting methods).

I find it just easiest to set a mutual budget before any shopping begins. Because a thing like, “It’s the thought that counts!” is easy to say (or type on the internet), but a lot harder to internalize. In reality, if I get my husband a really thoughtful $500 Christmas gift, and he gets me a really thoughtful $50 Christmas gift, he’s gonna be left feeling pretty crappy at the end of the day. To avoid all that mess, and because of (not in spite of) “It’s the thought that counts,” we agree on a number. If the gift really is all about the meaning and thought, then it’s not shallow or crass to set the budget. Besides, it’s not a hard-and-fast strict sort of rule (and I usually go over by a few bucks). But, having that understanding of the general expectation really relieves a lot of pressure and helps us to avoid that icky, inequitable-gift-feeling.

That’s how I would handle this situation. It doesn’t sound like you’re tied to the whole “surprise” end of things, so it’s fair to say, “Hey. How much do you wanna spend on each other?” I’m bracing for everyone in the comments to tell me how I’m unromantic and missing the point. But, relationships operate so much better when things that we’re socially trained to expect to be intrinsic or surprises or guesses are actually discussed openly and honestly. Though it may not seem like it, “How much to spend on the ring?” is an instance of expectations. And expectations are always, always better when they’re voiced. Just ask this lady.

As far as other people are concerned, here’s a secret: they don’t have to know how much you spent. In fact. They most definitely shouldn’t. How does that even come up in conversation? People and their manners, man.

Finally, practicality and frugality and planning for the big things are really important. But, you are the one person in this world entrusted to truly spoil your partner. That’s a sacred calling (and trust me, a really, really fun one). So, you know, be a responsible adult and everything. But once in awhile, take license to really spoil the heck out of him. Who knows. That may not mean spending much money at all. The only way to find out is to talk openly and honestly and make sure your expectations (if not your budgets) line up.

*****

Team Practical, how did you determine how much to spend on engagement rings? Was your decision influenced at all by tradition?

Photo Corinne Krogh.

If you would like to ask Team Practical a question please don’t be shy! You can email Liz at: askteampractical [at] apracticalwedding [dot] com. If you would prefer to not be named, anonymous questions are also accepted. Though it really makes our day when you come up with a clever sign-off!

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