If you’re planning on getting married – or are at least thinking about it – chances are you’ve already begun to add up the costs, including how much you should spend on the engagement ring.
Engagement rings are typically simple bands with a gemstone rooted in it – most often a diamond. They’re traditionally worn more by women (though that has changed with time, and varies across cultures), and signify the promise or commitment to the relationship.
One of the first recorded uses of a diamond engagement ring was in 1477, by Archduke Maximilian of Austria, who proposed to Mary of Burgundy – though the tradition of using rings to signify coupling can be traced back millennia, across various cultures.
The tradition largely persists today, with many western societies playing out the tried-and-true showing of love.
While a typical engagement process is still standard today, diamond producers have noted a worrying trend among younger generations – or ‘millenials’ – where the need to spend thousands of rands on a diamond ring is losing its appeal.
In July 2016, The Economist reported that the global diamond industry (from mining to retail) is in a bit of a rough spot, as consumer demand for the rare gem has slumped.
Notably, this is driven by two circumstances almost unique to millennials – an increasingly strained financial position, and greater awareness around the social ills and exploitation often involved in digging them up.
How much should you spend on an engagement ring?
The “rule of thumb” with engagement rings has always been to spend two months’ gross salary on a band. According to local craftsmen, Poggenpoel Diamond Jewellers, this rule seems to be what most South Africans go for.
In South Africa, the average spend is between R30,000 and R40,000, the group said – though noting that there were extreme swings above and below that range. Financial journalist, Maya Fisher-French previously pegged the typical budget for an engagement ring at R20,000.
A recent survey conducted by GoBanking looked at the traditions around engagement rings and how much people are willing spend on them. The poll of over 2,000 North Americans found that the largest portion of respondents (36%) would not spend more than $1,000 (R14,000) for a ring.
Only 6% agreed with the two months’ salary rule, while 11% said they would spend more than $5,000 (R71,000).
Similarly, a poll run by BusinessTech found that almost 60% of South Africans wouldn’t pay more than R10,000 for an engagement ring, with the number of people willing to spend big money diminishing after R35,000.
At the time of writing, a vast minority said they would pay more than R60,000.
The ring or the money?
As consumers become more price sensitive, and traditions keep changing shape, couples are finding new ways to symbolise their unity, while perhaps saving the money they would typically spend on expensive rings for more practical purposes.
According to clinical psychologist Joanne Becker, financial problems are one of the biggest issues couples face in a marriage – and divorce lawyers have noted that it’s one of the biggest reasons couples split.
Becker suggested that couples who opt to skip the ring could put the money away for future events or ‘treats’ that would better aid the relationship – such as a trip away; for nights out; or a pick up or buffer when financial crises hit home.
For couples that really want to the ring, Poggenpoel jewellers recommends shopping around to find the best price.
Shopping malls tend to charge more than some studios, the groups said, while looking at alternatives to diamonds – such as sapphires and rubies which are also popular choices.
Ultimately, a symbol of love should not put financial strain on your future relationship – so when it comes to how much you should spend on the ring: “The awesome, short answer would be: whatever you feel comfortable with,” the group said.