5 Tips When Buying an Engagement Ring

Things I Learned and Wished I Knew Beforehand

Read Time: 7 Minutes

Buying an engagement ring was the biggest decision I had ever made. Not only was I planning to get married, I was about to make the largest single purchase in my life. Needless to say, I was nervous.

For such a major life event, I realized I knew surprisingly little about engagement rings. After hours of research, I felt confident enough to go to Manhattan’s Diamond District, where 90% of all diamonds in the US cross through before getting sold!

All my prep ensured my shopping experience went smoothly, but this article should get you up to speed in a fraction of the time. Let’s dive into my top 5 tips I learned while buying an engagement ring.

1. “The Motorcycle Rule”

My brother and I are very close, so when I started saving up for an engagement ring, naturally I talked with him about it. He was very excited and supportive, but also had a serious question for me.

He asked, “Nick, I’m not saying this will happen, but what if you save up all this money for a ring and you break up before you buy it?”

My brother had a good point. I paused for a few seconds and replied, “Well, I’ll buy a motorcycle instead!”

We laughed, but I was only half joking. Nobody in history has ever regretted saving too much money. Diamonds are expensive, and saving up for a nice ring will take a lot of time, so the earlier you start, the better. Nobody is forcing you to spend that money on a diamond. So if you change your mind, who cares?

The table below shows how much you would have to save each month to purchase a hypothetical $10,000 engagement ring.

And if things don’t work out, heck, you can always buy a motorcycle, or whatever else you want, instead.As you can see, how early you start saving has a huge impact on how much you have to save per month. So when people ask me when they should start saving for a ring, I tell them as soon as possible. You don’t even need to be in a serious relationship yet! If you think you will get married some time soon, even if you don’t know who that special someone is yet, start saving.

2. Ask to See Shitty Diamonds

You read that correctly. I asked my jeweler to show me low-quality diamonds, even though I had no intention of buying them. Here’s why.

I was not a diamond expert, and had not spent hours comparing good diamonds to bad ones. So when the jeweler told me I was looking at a really high-quality diamond, I had no clue if he was lying or not. So I asked him to show me a much lower quality diamond right next to it. That made it so easy to see that the cheaper diamond had a slight yellow tint, and was much cloudier than the nicer diamond. But without seeing them side-by-side, I would never have noticed.

Diamond Color Scale
The diamond color scale. One of the 4 C’s.

There are 4 C’s of diamonds (cut, color, clarity & carat). All are important. I saw a diamond that was 3 times as big as the one I purchased, but was cut so poorly it looked like a fogged up mirror. So ask to see multiple diamonds with good/bad characteristics so you can understand each one.

Asking to see various diamonds side-by-side was the best decision I made that day. It made it so easy to compare and gave me confidence that I bought a truly impeccable diamond.

3. Not GIA Graded? Don’t Buy It

You wouldn’t buy a house without a deed. Or a car without the registration. Diamonds, like other large purchases, should always be verified for their accuracy and quality.

The problem is, different jewelers had different methods of grading diamonds, which led to even more confusion amongst consumers. There was a dire need for a standardized grading system. So in stepped the GIA.

The Gemological Institute of America (GIA) is the leading authority on diamonds across the globe. Think of them as referee of the diamond business, making sure jewelers play by the rules. They are an independent, nonprofit organization, so they remain unbiased. Here are a few stats to let you know just how big a deal they are.

  • The GIA has been in business for 86 years (founded in 1931).
  • Remember the 4 C’s (cut, color, clarity & carat)? Yeah, they invented those.
  • The GIA has been hired to grade countless unique gems, including the famous Hope Diamond.
Hope Diamond
The Hope Diamond. One of the most famous diamonds in the world.

There are other agencies that grade diamonds, but none are as highly regarded as the GIA. Jewelers also have many sneaky ways of claiming a diamond is certified, but the only true way to tell is if the diamond comes with a GIA Diamond Grading Report™. Without that piece of paper, don’t buy it.

Every diamond that is graded by the GIA will also have a tiny identification number laser-inscribed on the side of it. It’s too small to see with the naked eye, but if you’re really nerdy, like me, you can buy a magnifying glass to actually see it. That way, you can know that the diamond you bought is the actual diamond in the Grading Report they gave you. And, whenever you take the ring in to get cleaned or resized, you can always re-check the diamond to make sure it didn’t get swapped out.

A little paranoid? Maybe. But I don’t want to take any chances. Moral of the story, if you can’t verify it’s been GIA graded, don’t buy it.

4. Size Matters, and NOT the Diamond

Once you’ve selected the style of ring you like, and verified the diamond is GIA graded, you still have to tell the jeweler what size you actually want him/her to make the ring.

If your girlfriend (soon fiancé) wears rings regularly, you can maybe sneak one without her noticing. But even then, if she doesn’t wear that ring on her ring finger, you’re just taking an educated guess.

My advice is to get as close as possible, but always go slightly too big. This is because if the ring you buy is too small, you won’t be able to slide it past her knuckle during your proposal, and you won’t be able to take engagement photos, like below, that will really capture the moment.

My Engagement Photo
One of my engagement photos. The ring is actually too big, but it looks perfect for pictures.

This is a small detail, but to her, it will matter. The proposal is something all women dream about since they were 5 years old, and they want it to be perfect. You will be nervous enough that day without having to worry about the ring fitting.

Any good jeweler will let you take the ring back the next week and get it resized for free. So, try to get the size just right, but go a size or 2 larger than you think.

5. Never Take Out a Loan

My last piece of advice is to never take out a loan when purchasing a ring. You don’t want that debt hanging over your engagement. Trust me, weddings are expensive enough.

Ignore all those rules of thumb like “you should spend 3 month’s salary on a ring.” Those generic tips were dumb when they were invented and they’re dumb today. Follow tip #1 in this article and start saving early. That will help you buy a ring your fiancé will cherish, without breaking the bank.

A tip many guys don’t think of is that you can always upgrade the diamond later. A couple years into your happy marriage, after you’ve gotten a raise or 2, and have been able to save up some more money, go pick out a diamond of the same style, just slightly bigger. That way you stay within your means and never buy more diamond than you can really afford.

I know she deserves a 10 carat, flawless diamond. But please. If you can’t buy it in cash, you can’t afford the ring.

Wrapping It All Up

There you have it. My 5 tips for buying an engagement ring. Start saving early. Ask to see shitty diamonds. Don’t buy it if it’s not GIA graded. Go a size too big. And never take out a loan.

Now you are ready to make the most important purchase you’ve made so far in your life. Congratulations. And let me know any tips you have that I didn’t mention.

The conclusions drawn throughout this website are not advice meeting the particular investment needs of any investor, and they are not intended to serve as the basis for financial planning, tax, or investment decisions. This website is for informational purposes only and is not a solicitation or an offer to buy any product, service, security or instrument. The opinions expressed throughout this website are my own and not those of any company I work for.