Updated on 03.26.09

A Reasonable Engagement

Trent Hamm

This is the second entry in a five part series this week on the stages of a relationship and how you can make financially sound choices throughout. Other entries include courtships, weddings, honeymoons, and marriages.

At some point in a relationship, it becomes clear that the people involved are interested in tying their lives together.

What does that mean? It means different things for everyone, but as you prepare for that major change, there are lots of opportunities to build a great foundation for the future. There are also lots of opportunities to watch money slip through your fingers – money that you will wish you had later on.

Here are ten great things to do to make your engagement a successful one – and one that doesn’t have to break the bank.

Don’t buy into the ludicrous expectations for a ring. The hype about wedding rings is in overdrive. Do not buy into it. Two or three months’ worth of salary is not a reasonable amount to spend – it can create a negative financial impact that will last for years. It can delay your ability to buy a home, reduce your ability to save for retirement in the short term, and (quite likely) put you into a debt hole that will be hard to dig out of. And, if the engagement is accepted, it’s a hole you’ll share. So, what can you do?

If you’re expecting a ring, make a concerted effort to convince your partner to spend less. Make it clear that you not only don’t expect but that you don’t want an exorbitant ring. After all, the money could be put to better use on a down payment for a home, on retirement savings, or on other things that will help you both in life.

If you’re buying a ring, be reasonable about it and share your feelings with your partner. Discuss the purchase to some extent with the person you’re considering proposing to. Find out their feelings on the subject and explain your position that a lower-cost ring will provide greater rewards in married life.

Don’t “overdo” the moment. Make your proposal simple and memorable, not something incredibly over the top. One good idea – return to the spot where you first met or re-enact your first date. This will not only mean much more than reserving a table at an overly expensive restaurant, but it’ll keep your wallet from burning up, too.

Seek pre-marriage counseling. My wife and I attended pre-marriage counseling with our pastor and it was incredibly helpful in getting us to talk about the areas where we needed to work on our relationships. If you’re getting married through a church or other house of faith, consult the religious leader there – he or she will almost always help you through this.

Start talking about your shared money situation. This is vital – so vital, in fact, that I wrote a detailed guide to those first money talks during one’s engagement. This is vital, because if you don’t start off on the same financial page with the same ideas about roles and spending and sharing resources, it will be very hard to get on that page later on. Your engagement is the perfect time to do this.

Be completely honest about your individual money situation. Now is the time to open the books and be fully honest with your partner about your true financial situation. Don’t hide anything – get started with complete honesty. Don’t hide anything, because at some point, your partner will need to know about any big debts you are sitting on or other such issues, and that problem will also be your partner’s problem. Talking about it now allows you both the time and space to figure out how to handle it – together.

Start planning long-term financial things together. If you’re considering financial choices that will have a long term impact, include your partner in the discussion. Plan out your retirement savings and your career choices together, because those money choices will affect your partner greatly in the years to come.

Talk about a pre-nupital agreement, even if it seems unnecessary. Some people firmly believe a marriage is for a lifetime. If that’s so, great – it should be very easy to draft an agreement because you’ll never have to execute it, right? Others might believe that they don’t have enough assets to worry about it – but will that be true in ten years? No matter what, a pre-nupital agreement can save you a lot of headaches later on, so talk about it now.

Talk through your problems with your partner first and foremost. Marriage is a lifelong commitment, one where you share everything with your partner. As you move towards that day, you should be talking about your problems and concerns with your partner, not hiding them away. Hiding them now or seeking others to talk to sets a poor precedent for your relationship, one that will cost you time and time again over the long run.

Got any good, reasonable, frugal advice for people who are engaged – or about to be? Please leave them in the comments.

Loading Disqus Comments ...
Loading Facebook Comments ...
  1. un says:

    Is it possible to draft a prenuptial agreement that protects a spouse from the debt of their partner? (I.e. if the marriage were to end or the other spouse were to die, debt-collectors could not go after the spouse?)

  2. Rosie Moth says:

    i read that the current view of engagement rings was strongly [almost completely] invented by debeers to drive sales. apparently diamonds were originally considered masculine as they are hard//strong etc. apparently they put lots of funds behind the “diamonds are forever” and “diamonds are a girls best friend” campaigns to convince the public that men should buy diamonds for women [who should want them] if they loved them…



  3. Baker @ Man Vs. Debt says:

    I really enjoy this series so far! I especially like the “don’t overdo the moment” and “pre-marriage counseling” parts. It’s taken the first few years of marriage for my wife and I to discover and work out some issues that should have been brought to light during a good pre-marriage session.

    In addition, if I had to do it all over again I would simply get a tattoo around where my wedding ring goes on my finger. It would have saved the money we spend on a Men’s band (silly) and I would have no chance of getting misplaced, stolen, or damaged!

  4. Sara says:

    Check out Israel Diamond Supply in Tulsa, Oklahoma for rings. Adel, the owner, is great. When my husband was buying my ring, he asked, “What is your budget.” Then he worked very hard to come in under budget for us. When we were looking at settings, he showed us one that was bigger and one that was smaller. We liked them both equally. So he said, “If you can’t tell the difference, don’t pay more.” When we took my ring to have it appraised for personal property insurance just two years later, it appraised for four times what he charged us. He said that all the other jewelers in town hated him because he charged closer to wholesale value. The markup on diamonds is outrageous. If you’ve ever visited a jewelry store to look at rings, you will know his frugal methods are much appreciated. Most stores we visited tried to upsell us like crazy!

  5. Brandon says:

    Don’t “overdo” the moment.

    Worst advice ever.

  6. Sara says:

    Oh…I have one more comment too. Even if you have not yet met “the one”, start saving a little each month towards a ring and wedding. Even if you do it frugally, it’s still more expensive than not getting engaged or having a wedding. My husband started saving for a ring for me a couple years before he met me. When he bought my ring, he was able to pay cash for it, even though we were college students at the time. (And it was his good money habits that helped me know he was “the one” for me!)

  7. Colin says:

    To me, “frugal” and “diamond” don’t belong in the same sentence. Except that one.

  8. Jules says:

    Anybody who wants a diamond needs to read this first. And really, if you can’t tell the difference, don’t buy the real thing–I could never understand how people could pay so much for something only an “expert” could tell was real, anyway. It’s like buying a $90 bottle of wine because the experts say it’s good, even if you can’t tell it apart from Three-Buck Chuck.

  9. Anastasia says:

    I have to agree with Brandon. “Don’t ‘overdo’ the moment” could be terrible advice. It may not be every person’s cup of tea, but some women really build up the notion of the proposal. I have a close friend who would have been really devastated if her fiance had done something low key.

  10. I got engaged last fall. I spent a pretty penny on the ring but found out later it was much less than is “expected” today. My fiance picked it out the day after I did (she didn’t know I had picked it out) so I knew it was the right one.

    The proposal was simple, we went to our favorite place in the world and we were all alone, I got down on one knee and did the deed.

    Your advice is spot on Trent. Woman, don’t let your man feel like he has to spend so much on a ring. Every dime he spends is a dime out of your back pocket.

  11. Anastasia says:

    If your engagement ring has to fit into a tight budget then it’s particularly important to find out what kind of ring your fiance wants, in my opinion. My husband let me help pick out my ring. We chose a beautiful diamond, that was fairly small (2/3 of a karat), and had all of the attributes I wanted. We set it into a very simple setting.

    When we reach our 25th wedding anniversary, I’m going to ask my husband to have the diamond reset into a more elaborate setting. 5 years down, 20 to go! :)

  12. Adam @ Checkbook Diaries says:

    My wife still talks about our engagement with a sparkle in her eye. We went camping in Shanendoah National Park for a long weekend, and on the second full day we hiked about two hours to a cliff overlooking a waterfall. I had a camera on a tripod, with a remote shutter release and got the whole “moment” on film with multiple pictures. The whole weekend cost us maybe $200 since we camped, cooked for ourselves, and didn’t have to pay for entertainment or activities. It was a very private moment since we were out in the middle of the woods.

    As far as the ring goes, I ended up getting a deal on a stone that the jeweler had had in his inventory for a few years in the front window of the store. Apparently, since it was old stock and had been purchased when the wholesale costs were lower, I was able to get a ring that appraised for $4,000 more than what I paid for it. I consider it a pretty good deal. Do your homework, and go in to the store knowing what you’re talking about or you will get fleeced. I was asking questions that he said alot of jewelers wouldn’t even bother asking.

  13. Anastasia says:

    @Colin I try to think of frugality as a means of getting your financial house into order, so that you can spend your means in a way that is meaningful to you, whether that is for educating your kids, starting a business, or buy $1000 shoes. So in my view, if living a frugal lifestyle allows someone to splurge on a symbolic, albeit problematically symbolic, but symbolic nonetheless object for the gratification of his/her lover/future spouse…why not?

  14. Patrick says:

    @Brandon: Please explain what you mean by that being the worst advice ever? I think it’s pretty spot on. The general point I got from it is that a lavish, expensive plan to propose isn’t at all necessary. Make it thoughtful and memorable, and you don’t have to drop a lot of cash, or set up unreasonable expectations that the appropriate way to express love is by going over the top.

    When I proposed to my fiancee, there was no elaborate ceremony, but due to the way I went about it, and the circumstances involved, we both remember it with great fondness and affection. It was memorable without being grandiose. And, most importantly, she said yes. :D

  15. Stephen says:

    I gotta agree with Brandon, even if I wouldn’t phrase it like that. If there’s ever a time to overdo a moment… this is it. It’s the story your kids ask about 30 years from now.

  16. Colin says:

    I have troubles seeing how cutting back on A, B, C, D, E, F, G, and H to outright splurge on I is “frugal”. We’re not talking about cutting back a couple bucks here and there to eat fillet mignon once a month.

  17. Adam says:

    Say what you will, but I find pre-nups demoralizing. It’s the wrong approach and attitude to entering into a marriage. Engaged couples should be preparing to work through the hard times together – learning to trust, love, and forgive; not seeking ways to leave the back door open.

  18. Colin says:

    First, “overdo” is a relative term. That said I have to “side” with Trent (and this goes along with my position on “the ring”).

    If the symbol or the romanticism of “the proposal” is so extremely important then you are not meant for me. I didn’t propose to my wife, it was more of a mutual decision. My wife has a blue sapphire in her ring (my birth stone) and will never own a diamond. She is more than fine on both counts.

    I don’t take advice from jewelry commercials nor Hollywood. Especially when it comes to love. Sorry, I care more about my love for my wife than the material symbols that show it.

  19. Rob says:

    Which woman would you want?

    A: One that needs a diamond, a big proposal, a big shin dig, one that “needs”

    B: One that simply could care less, and one that simply would rather you make her a gift, cherish the time together, then take her out.

    I have B.

    Reality people, main cause of divorce=marriage.

  20. Rob says:

    Good point Colin. You two have the qualities to make it.

  21. Candi says:

    I disagree with Trent. This is the moment to overdo. Now how you and your loved one define overdo is a very subjective idea. My current husband and I are not each other’s first marriage. For us, the proposal and yes the ring were things to be made different from our previous spouses. Whether the moment is flashy or low key, it will be one you remember forever. It should be special. . .

  22. Helen says:

    Why buy a diamond at all? I have been married for a year and a half and I never had an engagement ring and I never wanted one. Since our wedding, my husband and I have both worn our simple white gold bands and to me that means so much more to me than having an extra bit of flash. That said, I did receive a fabulous “engagement camera” as an engagement gift from my husband-to-be – it was perfect for me and I’ve gotten a lot more use and enjoyment out of the camera than I would have out of a shiny rock!

  23. Danielle says:

    We had a rocky beginning with money but we caught it early. :) Luckily we didn’t have or cause too much debt before we figured it out.

    Reading the comments I was reminded of ring shopping with my now husband. I went into it saying that I wanted a diamond you could see but not one that would knock anybody out. When we went to see rings and check sizing the saleslady gave me a dirty look when I said which size I liked on my finger. She was very disapproving and tried to convince me that I would want bigger later. It’s been almost 7 years now and I still think the size I chose is perfect. I always get compliments on it too. Even with the smaller size my poor hubby spent more than he should have (though I didn’t realize it at the time). It’s an investment I will love wearing for the rest of my life but I would have been fine with getting it at a later more financially stable time. Or not at all…though it’s hard for me to say that cause I do love it and have sentimental value attached to it.

    With engagement and wedding and all my best suggestion would be prioritize- what is most important to you about your wedding- whether it’s the rings, pictures, food, dancing… choose one or two things to focus your budget on that are important to you and find ways to DIY and bring down the cost of everything else.

    Also you can propose romantically and big without overspending. Your suggestions are good and still make for a good story. Personally I think it’s more boring to say, “we went to this fancy restaurant…” Definitely make it special and tie it in to things that are important to you as a couple. That’s what makes it romantic.

  24. Zannie says:

    “some women really build up the notion of the proposal.”

    Some women* need to grow up.

    Now, if a woman has it in her head that a proposal should be really “romantic,” well, sure, whatever. Hopefully that’s something her partner knows about her and will do his best to come through on. But romantic does not have to be expensive. The hike in the woods someone described sounds perfectly romantic to me–for my tastes, it’s far more romantic than a fancy dinner at some overpriced restaurant.

    I realize there are some women out there (many, perhaps) who equate romance with having a ton of money spent on them, but they are unlikely to be readers of this blog. If their partners read this blog, it behooves them to think long and hard about whether they share enough financial values to have a successful marriage.

    One of the most romantic proposals I’ve ever heard of was when a friend of mine had gone out on some “boys night out” thing (a bachelor party, perhaps) where there were other women around. He realized that night that he never wanted to be with anyone but the woman who was waiting at home for him. When he got home, he went into the kitchen and made a ring out of aluminum foil, came back out into the living room and got down on one knee in front of her. Drunk and with the dog licking his face, he proposed to her with an aluminum foil ring. Now, that’s a story to tell the grandkids. (She got a real ring later, but I bet she still has the foil one.)

    * I’m making the assumption of “heterosexual man proposes to heterosexual woman” here because it’s unlikely that the people involved in any other scenario are going to give a rat’s ass about “tradition.”

  25. Laura in Seattle says:

    Where to get frugal diamonds:

    Crater of Diamonds State Park.

    It’s in Arkansas.


    For $7 per adult for the day, you can go in and dig for your own diamonds. What you find, big or small, is yours to keep. When Bill Clinton was Governor of Arkansas, Hillary had a 3-carat diamond ring she wore for state occasions. The stone came from Crater of Diamonds.

    Of course, it would cost a bit for the trip if you are not in the midwest — but if you drove out, it’d probably still be cheaper than a ring from the DeBeers empire.

    And if you are thinking the stones are going to be tiny and pointless, do a Yahoo! search — several times a year people find stones in the 2-, 3- or 4- carat range and make the news. (More than big enough for a ring!)

    And any girl will be greatly impressed if you can tell her you dug up her diamond yourself. :-)

  26. liv says:

    Soooo subjective. If you can afford to and want to, the DO IT. Over-do the moment, and buy the ring you like (make sure it’s what you and she will LIKE…not just big for show…i’m talking practicality here).

    If you can’t afford it, learn to deal with what you can afford. Just because it is a materialistic symbol doesn’t make people who want it “need to grow up” or “materialistic”…it’s just a tradition. and while we’re on the topic of tradition, good for you if you decided to go against it. you can have a cookie. some of us still appreciate its sentimentality though. being frugal on the symbols doesn’t mean be frugal on the sentiment. if your idea of a proposal is to just be asked while chilling in front of the tv, COOL. and if your idea is having flowers and candles and stuff, COOL. don’t mess with other peoples’ ideas.

  27. Sam says:

    Are there any financial goals you should meet before considering marriage? I’ve heard some people say you should have at least $5000 in the bank, but that seems like a bit much. Any advice?

  28. Robin Crickman says:

    Sometimes it is not the couple who want or “need”
    the engagement ring, but the extended family or
    the couple’s friends. If the principals don’t
    care, one easy and inexpensive approach would be
    to purchase a cubic zirconia or similar ring and
    let friends and family ohh and ahh over it while
    the finances of the engaged couple remain intact.

  29. SP says:

    I think “don’t overdo” is ok advice if it comes to how much to spend and such. It would be ridiculous to take me to a fancy restaurant and propose there because… I don’t go to fancy restaurants and I don’t really consider that romantic. But if your gal really loves that stuff, then for one day of your life, it is worth it. Assuming she has reasonable expectations of your future life together, wanting a proposal that cost some amount of money isn’t a sin. And those two things don’t always conflict.

    That 2 hr hike in the woods could be classified as “overdone” becuase it required significant planning, thought, and effort. THAT I want to be overdone. Romance, yes please, spending $$$$, not needed.

  30. Jennie says:

    Great advice on pre-marital counseling. My husband and I use the advice we got there till now.

  31. imelda says:

    @ Adam (#7): Will you marry me?

    @ Trent: The “don’t overdo it” advice is too vague to really mean anything, which is why so many people have taken the comment and run with it. I think Trent simply meant not to spend too much, but just telling people not to do anything “over the top” sounds like you’re imposing your own personality and romantic style on them.

  32. Adrienne says:

    Seems like a lot of women bashing in the comments here. For the record – women aren’t the only ones who have expectations for proposals, weddings, etc. My husband is actually much more of a “romantic” in that sense than I. I find the notion that women are univerally the materialistic ones in a relationship offensive.

  33. Christine says:

    My boyfriend knows that, even though we live together, have a joint bank account, and he’s on my health insurance, if he comes to me with a diamond, I’ll say no.

    In part it’s about the evils of deBeers; and not just the evil human rights stuff. Their marketing department invented engagement rings in the 1930s, and invented surprise engagements in the 1950s because men pay more when women aren’t involved in the decision. They came up with “a diamond is forever” so you won’t attempt to resell and find out how worthless diamonds actually are.

    I’m excited about moissonite; they look exactly like diamonds, except they have more fire, greater hardness and brilliance than diamonds, and are 1/10th the cost per carat. Jewelers had to massively upgrade their equipment when they came on the market. Plus you can impress both an old-fashioned aunt who never needs to know it’s manmade, as well as a vegan human-rights activist cousin!

    And I told my boyfriend in all honesty, I am just as happy to skip the engagement ring altogether and wear my grandmother’s wedding band after we’re married.

  34. michael says:

    If it shocks the hell out of her and appears out of the blue, that’s all that matters. Being considered ‘over-done’ is something someone besides the two who are involved would consider it, and frankly, I don’t give a flying turd what anyone else thinks of my proposal to my lifemate. Especially if it’s financially considered ‘over-done’. MYOB, IMO.

  35. Tim says:

    if all else fails, forget everyone’s advice and go with love, because it will get you through. damn everyone else ;o)

  36. Ken says:

    I think your best comment was about being open and honest about finances BEFORE marriage. Both partners need to know what the other’s debt is. They also need to discuss debt management to see if their values are close in this area.
    Good stuff!

  37. michelle says:

    Is there a right time in the beginning of a relationship to bring up finances? The problem with waiting until you are engaged, or know you want to marry this person, is that by then it is almost too late. Your heart is already way too involved and your head is likely to lose that battle. Is it ever appropriate to bring this up in the dating stages before you become too involved with someone with terrible money habits?

  38. amy says:

    The thing that stuck out at me was the advice to convince your future fiance that you don’t ‘want’ an exorbitant ring.
    If you want one, let him know! Be honest! Don’t lie, not even a little white one (those are still lies). Then work together to figure out what you can afford and how you can both be happy with something that you will hopefully be wearing every day for the rest of your life.

    The overall article is good though definitely written to a certain subset of people. The wide variety of what has meaning and value to people does not seem to be fully taken into account. While I do not agree with some of the points, I do appreciate Trent’s intentions.

  39. Frugal Liz says:

    My husband and I were sitting in his room together when all of a sudden he blurted out,”So I guess we should get married…Okay?” One week later we were hitched in a 5 minute “ceremony” performed by a Notary Public. That was 8 years ago and I STILL crack up when I remember how he asked me and then tacked the “Okay” on to the end of it!:P

  40. Erik says:

    I wish there were more people who shared your views on diamonds.

    If anyone is interested, the documentary series “Diamond Road” shows the whole diamond mining system and how diamonds were marketed to the western word:


  41. Amy says:

    Ok, I know that Trent is talking about engagement here, but in the same spirit, this discussion brought back a happy memory of the gift I gave my husband just after we got married. We didn’t have tons of money, and my husband was about to start graduate school, so my wedding gift to him was a Neil Young tape (Glitterball). We shared a good laugh at the time, and to this day the memory still brings a smile to both our faces.

    As for a ring – I got really lucky and inherited a family heirloom, not everyone gets off this easily!

  42. Jon Bohlinger says:

    I found a ring designer that made a really neat custom ring for my wife with a matching wedding band for cheaper than I would have paid for a ring in a store, plus I was in complete control of the process. My wife also got to make my ring, and matched it to hers. I would recommend hitting up your local artists and seeing if one of them can do it.

  43. Kris says:

    @ Michelle # 28

    I think dating is a good time to bring up finances in general, so you know if the person is a spender or a saver. It’s probably not necessary (and it’s kinda weird) to ask for specific numbers (“how much do you make?” “how much debt do you have?”), but you can always ask not-too-personal questions when you’re first dating — “I just read this personal finance book. Do you know anything about Dave Ramsey?” Or whoever you like to read.

  44. Courtney says:

    While I’ve enjoyed many of your articles, I was pretty disappointed with this one. Why assume most women have “ludicrous expectations” for a ring? I am not someone very caught up by material possessions, but I’ll admit, I wanted a beautiful diamond when I got married and I was willing to help make that happen! My husband and I were just married in 2008. We were both in our 30s, owned a home together, no consumer debt and a comfortable emergency savings. We picked my ring out together (beautiful, but nothing real extravagant), got married in Fiji by ourselves and had a small reception upon our return home. We paid for all of it in cash and haven’t regretted any of it. I think the message is – don’t go beyond your means, certainly don’t make choices that put you in debt, but enjoy yourself!

  45. Kbet says:

    My mother gave me the ring my father gave her 50 years ago when I was 20. I never wore it because it was too big and I was scared to death I would lose it. I should say that my father died when I was seven. When I remarried 5 years ago I told my fiancee that instead of buying a ring, I wanted my mother’s ring resized so that I could wear it as my engagement ring. He agreed because he knew it was important to me to wear this family heirloom. I wear it every day and I love the fact that it was a gift of love from my dad to my mom.

    I don’t know why it’s become acceptable to spend so much money on an engagement ring or a wedding for that matter. There are so many more important things to spend that money on…a down payment on a home, furnishings, a car, etc… I don’t understand how spending $20,000+ on an engagement/wedding could be considered “normal”. To me, that’s just ridiculous! If the love is there, how you tie the knot should not be that important! Our wedding cost a total of $2000 and we did everything ourselves and everyone who attended had a blast Really…everyone just needs to get a grip on this whole wedding thing.

  46. conny says:

    Interesting so many comments and not ONE that say pre nup ought to be mandatory….

    Its the most important financial step you ever will take.

    At lest see that you are on the same page as your financial partner (hopefully for life.).

    You have insurances for everything else pre nup IS the LIFE insurance. (all the other ones are DEATH insurances, they are only called LIFE insurances because its easier to sell….)

  47. Really Nice Article….
    I fact once upon a time i had tried these things.
    But it did not work for me…

    My Fiancee & her family thought that I should do more expenses to show the people that I love her….
    And my Financial position was not sound at that time. And ultimately my 3 year relationship ended by the family of my fiancee…..

    After reading this article, my all the past memories recalled trent….
    I m feeling very gloomy today Trent…..

  48. Denise says:

    Pawn shops are a good place to look for a ring. To Zannie, non-heterosexual couples have the same thoughts on romance that heterosexual ones do. The pre-marriage counseling idea is a good one. My husband and I were “in love” and that was the only glue holding us together. One beautiful daughter latter and a not so nice divorce latter, I really wished that we had gone in for the counseling. We had nothing else in common and now I have extremely bad credit due to the failed marriage that I am trying to rebuild.

  49. tightwadfan says:

    Guys please at least try to think of something romantic for the proposal. By overdoing it Trent meant financially, not how much effort you put in. Trent’s idea of taking her back to the place you first met or something meaningful and creative like that would be great.

    The sad truth is a woman’s friends will always ask about the proposal and “oh he took me to dinner at TGI Friday’s and pulled out the ring” is not impressive.

    I guess it all depends on your girlfriend and you should know her well enough by now. I would HATE it if my husband had proposed to me on a jumbotron or something in front of a crowd like that but some women would like that.

  50. tightwadfan says:

    michelle –

    That is a tough one, I know what you mean about getting emotionally involved but I worked with a woman who would bring up finances right off the bat and I think it scared a lot of men off. I think the beginning of a relationship is a time to be casual and enjoy each other and talking about finances is maybe not right at that point.

    Further in the relationship when it’s become more serious could be a time to introduce the subject. Maybe talk about your own situation, how you’re paying off your student loans or whatever, and see what response you get.

    By observing your partner you should be able to get an idea of their spending habits and attitude towards money. You can’t know about their debt situation without having that talk, though. And Trent is soooo right about having that talk BEFORE you get married.

  51. tightwadfan says:

    Sam –

    It all depends on your relationship. Many couples nowadays go into marriage with massive student loans, if they waited until they were out of debt they’d be 40 by the time they got married. As long as you know your partner’s financial situation and are okay with it, that’s what matters.

    You should definitely have the money set aside for the wedding, however. It is ridiculous to borrow money for a wedding. If you can’t afford the blowout of your dreams then adjust your wedding to your budget. If you can’t bring yourself to do this then you’re not ready to get married. If your partner won’t adjust his or her expectations then seriously reconsider this marriage. It will only be the beginning of your problems.

    It’s always a good idea to have the $1000 emergency fund, depending on where you are in your debt repayment plan. That’s $1000 in excess of your wedding costs.

  52. plonkee says:

    The proposal is definitely an each to their own thing. I would personally rather it be a mutual decision and/or I would propose (I’m a straight woman). I wouldn’t specially want a surprise, or a big deal (particularly I have to say yes right away). But not everyone is like me at all – some people want a big deal and a story. But whoever is proposing should know this sort of thing about their partner if they’re planning on getting married.

    The ring is an interesting issue. Honesty is probably the best policy all round I guess.

    Pre-nups aren’t valid in the UK so it’s kind of a moot point. I think they’re good though, in the same way that wills are good. If you don’t make an agreement between you, that effectively means that the state can decide what happens to the money.

  53. kristine says:

    Instead of an engagement ring, I asked my fiance for a new computer. With that killer set-up, I was able to create a fast graphics portfolio that landed me a dream job. I bragged about RAM, not carats.

    I no longer have that computer, but my engagement gift was one that benefitted our entire family for many years. OH! But we did get to Macy’s and each get a simple silver ring as a kind of engagement ring anyway…I think they cost 15 bucks each on sale. we had fun.

    Diamonds are a marketing ploy, anyway. Ever read Gulliver’s travels? Ooooh, pretty shiny things!

  54. Battra92 says:

    Remember most marriages fail so why pay more? ;)

  55. Anna says:

    On being surprised by a ring vs. participating in the choice: I had absolutely no say in the stone or design of my engagement ring. The ring just appeared. And I hated it for all the years we were married.

  56. Kari says:

    Just a quick idea:

    check out bluenile.com

    The diamonds come with the same report as those you’d buy in a jewelry store, are very secure in their shipping and billing policies, and they’re much lower in price.

    My husband and I bought the engagement ring diamond on bluenile and then picked out a ring to go with it and saved a grand or so.

  57. Bobbi says:

    This non-heterosexual couple definitely wanted the romance. But you should see the deal that one gets when the jeweler finds out that you are buying TWO engagement rings and TWO wedding rings. However, I did choose to buy rings that do not have real diamonds. We are planning to possibly put diamonds in them for our 10 year ceremony anniversary.

    I also agree that the engagement itself should fit the couple. We were at a park, very low key and it was perfect. Though we did go to dinner later that day but that was planned separately.

    Finally, on the pre-nup comments… we recently had children, but there is no second parent adoption in our state. In order for my partner to have parental rights we are filing a joint custody agreement. Essentially it is a pre-nup with regards to the children. It doesn’t affect our everyday life unless we were to split up. But in that situation (which will never happen!) it is already decided how time, money, custody, etc (and the etc is vast- public/private school, paying for college, paying for extracurriculars, religious upbringing…) will be balanced between us and the children. I actually think it might be a great idea for ANYONE with kids to determine these things when cooler heads prevail instead of in the middle of a divorce.

  58. Sage says:

    I disagree with your thoughts regarding the ring. The wedding lasts one day, the rings are worn hopefully forever. If the woman (or man for that matter) likes beautiful jewelry, why not splurge?

    We eloped and I have a 2.5 carat engagement ring and a 4 carat wedding band. Both were paid for in cash and cost far less than an average wedding here (the real money drain, truth be told). I enjoy wearing and looking at my rings everyday, who can say that about a wedding?

    We bought a house a little over a year after we married in 2000. The house is our only debt and will be completely paid off in 18 months or less.

  59. kenneth gibson says:


    weren’t you tempted to call this post ‘a modest proposal’ it would have been way clever!

  60. Johanna says:

    plonkee hinted at this already, but the very best advice I’ve heard about planning a proposal is this: If you don’t know whether your partner would prefer a big dramatic moment or a more modest one, then you’re not ready to be getting engaged.

  61. Bill in Houston says:

    I proposed to my wife two months before I got her an engagement ring. Since we were getting her finances in order we didn’t spend a lot. I had two loose diamonds that I wanted mounted to a ring I saw (that had a 1/3 carat diamond in the middle).

    We tell people two different proposal tales. If there are children or our parents around we say that I proposed out of the blue on the drive back from a birthday party. In reality we had gotten home from the child’s b’day party and gone to bed, and as we were snuggling and talking I blurted it out.

    Since the ring isn’t the world’s largest stone I tell my wife that some day I’ll surprise her with a bigger diamond. She tells me that it won’t take the place of her cherished engagement ring!

  62. EngineerMom says:

    “Don’t overdo it” definitely only refers to the monetary side of the proposal.

    My husband proposed exactly six months after we met. He knew I liked Italian restaurants, so he found a good one (not too pricey, but tasty), asked me to dress up, then after dinner we went for a walk at my favorite park. He had written a poem, which he read, then handed to me. The first letter of each line spelled out “Will you marry me”!

    For the record, my engagment ring has an emerald and two small diamonds set in white gold with a yellow gold band. The white gold also forms two trinity knots on either side of the diamonds. It’s very unique, which is what I wanted. I didn’t particularly want any diamonds, but he liked the setting so much he decided to buy it anyway. It didn’t break the bank (he paid cash for it), and I love it!

    I had a friend who decided when she was about 18 that she wanted a 1 carat or larger flawless clear diamond engagement ring set in a platinum Tiffany band. When she met her now-husband, he found out the ring she wanted would cost upwards of $30K. He gave her the option of getting the ring she wanted or a house to move into when they got married. She ended up choosing the house when it came down to the wire. He found a wholesale jeweler who was able to give him the quality and size stone that she wanted set in a similar setting for about 1/6 the Tiffany price. Still too expensive in my book, but he surprised her with the ring at the proposal, which turned out to be a memory she treasures – she had learned to choose the more important things, and then he went out of his way to still try to make her dreams come true within his budget.

  63. Lilly says:

    @Denise #35, pawn shops ARE a great place to find a ring. A lot of people don’t want “someone else’s junk”, but a lot of places have brand new stuff for WAY cheaper than a jewelry store. I used to work at a pawn shop and bought my engagement ring for $200 when I didn’t even have a significant other (figured I’d take advantage of a good deal and save it until I needed it!) My now-husband was a little miffed that I already HAD an engagement ring once we decided to get married, but he got over it. My wedding ring is sapphires and diamonds that I got at a Mother’s Day sale at Zales.

  64. DrGail says:

    The important thing with a proposal, I think, is that it be memorable. After all, you’ll be telling the story over and over again to people throughout your lives together. “Memorable”, however, does not mean extravagant.

    My husband was planning to propose during a fancy dinner at an elegant (and expensive) restaurant. But knowing how much I like to be distinctive (in everything I do), he popped the question at this little dive bar we came across while out for a drive in my convertible one Friday night. Definitely a memorable moment!

    We return to that bar occasionally (when we can find it; it’s out in the middle of nowhere), and often get free beers from the bartender when we announce that we got engaged there.

  65. K says:

    The thing that comes to mind when Trent said “Don’t overdo it” is the guy who buys a space on the jumbotron at the baseball game and embarrasses his girlfriend in front of thousands of people. I think you definitely should “overdo” the thought and the effort behind what you do but not necessarily go to extreme expense to do something lavish that she might not appreciate.

    As far as the ring, I was given a very nice ring that had been in my husband’s family for generations but hardly ever wear it. I don’t think a big diamond or any diamond at all is a requirement. But I also understand that if you have a high income and skimp on a ring, some people may take that as a lack of committment. I think that some amount of sacrifice is nice, but not anything that would put your financial future at risk. Maybe something like skipping the upgrade to an HDTV to buy a ring to show that this is something you are serious about.

  66. Cory says:

    My wife and I had already basically decided we were getting married well before I proposed. Finances were extremely tight and the only thing I could afford at the time was a $25 band. We picked out a pair of rings for around $150 a year later for the wedding.

    She told me some time after we were married that if I had given her a $1000 engagement ring she would have said no instead of yes. It would have shown her I was irresponsible.

    We will be celebrating our 22nd anniversary later this year. Now that I can afford a “nice” ring I’ve mentioned “upgrading” and she still says she has no use for an expensive right and would rather spend the money on a vacation with our children.

    I found the right woman for me. She doesn’t think an expensive gift is any more romantic than being handed a big wad of cash. She’ll take a rose personally delivered to her at work for no reason or an unexpected candle-lit dinner instead any day.

    I feel like I am the luckiest man in the world when I think about our lives together. Isn’t that better than an expensive bit of jewelery?

    When is the last time the price of the ring made a difference between staying together and divorce?

  67. Otis says:

    If you can’t handle the tough choices and ideas of a pre-nup then you shouldn’t be getting married.

    Pre-nups are challenging to do, and worth every moment, for the long-term health of your marriage.

    The problem is that people become evil during divorce and forget that there are people on both sides that made/make mistakes. If you can set up ground rules, you help prevent pursuing the destruction of your ex by the bitter party. It’s also financially prudent because you will save money on attorneys if everything is settled before you even get to the table.

  68. Adam says:


    Sorry, but you have it backwards. If you don’t believe that you as a couple can commit to one another for the long haul – love, trust, and forgive no matter the circumstances – then you shouldn’t be getting married. The real problem is that couples enter into marriage with a bit of selfishness within and are not entirely prepared to give themselves completely to each other. Pre-nups only fuel this fire. Marriage requires a complete and total self-giving.

  69. tgrlil says:

    Since my husband and I “pool” our money, whatever my husband spends on me comes out of my pocket as well.

    Christine – comment #34,

    Thank you for sharing this: “Their marketing department invented engagement rings in the 1930s, and invented surprise engagements in the 1950s because men pay more when women aren’t involved in the decision. They came up with “a diamond is forever” so you won’t attempt to resell and find out how worthless diamonds actually are.”

    Shameful scheme to make someone else rich at the expense of the financial beginnings of a couple. But who is to blame more? The inventor of the scheme, or the chump that buys into it?

    Don’t let marketing and ego bankrupt you. It’s not worth it.

    p.s. Great article, Trent.

  70. Catherine says:

    I have always found the whole idea of the proposal to be contrived. Why try to hide your intentions and then all of a sudden spring them on the other person? Isn’t this one of the most important times to come to a decision TOGETHER?

    I’ve been married for eight years. Neither one of us proposed; we made the decision gradually, and together. We then made plans for a wedding and had one. Doing things this way isn’t too unusual in my family, either. And no, we don’t feel like we missed out on anything–except for some rigamarole. Sudden, unexpected romantic twists are fun and in novels, but I see no reason to try to trump them up on top of a stable, loving relationship in real life.

  71. Georgia says:

    I can’t remember exactly how my dear husband proposed, but I do remember that it was one week after we started dating. Only after I met his parents 7 weeks later and fell in love with them too, did I say yes. We were married 3 weeks later and it cost less than $200 for everything. However, that was about 46 years ago. I lost him in 2007.

    However, I did not want an engagement ring-I do not like diamonds and the time was too short. I said I had always thought wide wedding bands look nice. Sears didn’t have one large enough to fit him. So we visited a jeweler near to the Sears in Chicago and he had a band set that had been on two inventories and he let us have the set for $40.00. Funny thing about that was he paid for it with a donation taken by friends at work to celebrate his upcoming marraige. Which, as he often reminded me, was partly money from his ex-girl friends. I didn’t mind. Lucky me – I got him.

    We were glad we got by so inexpensively because within the year he almost lost a finger when his ring got caught on the corner of a moving pallet. He promised to wear it for special occasions, but if you’re not used to wearing a ring at all, you forget it easily. My ring was okay for about 20 years and then arthritis took my knuckle to 2 sizes larger. My gold band could not be sized up because they had sized it down to fit me in 1963. I am getting ready to have them hung on a chain to wear for special occasions.

    As for prenups – I agree with Adam. You have to think marriage through and be certain of your feelings and commitment, realizing than being married will be different than dating. My husband used to say that most marriages fail because so few people have a good sense of humor. They take every slight or imagined slight and brood on it for days, sometimes weeks. And divorce is such a quick fix anymore. I realize that sometimes a divorce may be necessary, but not that often.

  72. friend says:


    I like what you wrote. How wonderful that you have such good memories of your engagement and your dear husband. Thank you for bringing some perspective.

  73. Frugal Liz says:

    You’re right…If you can laugh together, I think you can probably talk through almost anything. A sense of humor and a good sex life will save almost any marriage!

  74. psychsarah says:

    I want to put in another vote for “thoughtfully over-done” rather than “financially over-done” proposals. As with most things, it’s the thought that counts-even if your partner wants a big deal proposal. Spending a lot of money won’t matter if the thought isn’t there to back it up! When my husband proposed it was not expensive or fancy, but it was so perfect for us-very thoughtful, sweet, funny. I’m getting all misty now, just thinking about it, and it was almost 10 years ago!

  75. In the last year, a family member got engaged, opted for the ridiculously expensive ring for his fiancee, and eventually went through counseling when they found out that they weren’t compatible. The wedding was canceled, and luckily he got the ring back. I think some people are so in love with the idea of marriage that they don’t think rationally.

  76. I don’t know about this post. On the one hand, most of it is good – talking about money and expectations and all that is a really good idea.

    I’m not sold on pre-nups and have recently decided not to get one with my fiance because we are in such similar money situations. Yes, things could change and we could divorce, but at this point our prenup would say we equally split all the assets. Which is what the courts will probably decide anyway. But I think that your advice will get people to at least consider the option.

    The worst part of this post is the worst part of most of your posts: a condemnation of a decision other people should be allowed to make on their own. Instead of saying, “Don’t buy into that whole stupid diamond ring thing, you stupid susceptible-to-advertising jerks,” I’d prefer to see something like, “A modest ring can be as special as something bigger.” Buying or wanting a diamond ring is not a moral failing!

    For the record, I do have a diamond engagement ring. I urged my fiance to go for man-made (from greenkarat.com), but his family had a ring (from Israel) and he was able to get a diamond from that for mine.

  77. al says:

    “* I’m making the assumption of “heterosexual man proposes to heterosexual woman” here because it’s unlikely that the people involved in any other scenario are going to give a rat’s ass about ‘tradition.'”

    Zannie, gotta disagree with you there – careful with those assumptions. Might be the case, but equally might not be!

  78. Chris says:

    @ Anastasia #10

    Your friend is too high maintenance, then.. I’m glad some other poor soul married her..

    I suppose one persons “overdone” is another person’s “par for the course”. IMO if your engagement/ring/honeymoon financially handicaps you, it is a mistake. Plus, marriage isn’t all gowns, butterflies, and champagne.. Might as well get used to it.

    “Diamonds.. Because sometimes she just HAS to.”

  79. getagrip says:

    The thing I would stress the most on the above list is the pre-martial counseling. After years of dating, I discovered during our session that my fiance did not want children. Talk about a potential deal breaker! We worked through that but the couple working with us stated other couples had argued or broken up right in front of them over any number of points on the questionairre. Money issues were high ones in their eyes, with the question about how much each one could could spend without checking with their potential spouse first high on the list of deal breakers.

    What’s striking is that this was a basic checklist with really simple, but important questions. But it wasn’t a list you can just plop down infront of your significant other and start grilling them with. The counseling provided a good forum to raise these issues. Also, people get into a pattern, you may make continuing assumptions about your partner’s feelings or attitudes either based on responses they made when you first met (e.g. I could see myself having a child), and your assumptions (e.g. she likes kids, she’d like to have some of her own). We tend to assume the person is on the same page as us yet they may have changed their minds or you take something they said as affermation rather than consideration. If nothing else this will let you know you are really thinking along the same lines before saying you do.

  80. Brooke says:

    A few previous commenters have mentioned that their ring was appraised for a much higher amount than they paid, implying that they got a great deal. I just wanted to point out that this is a common phenomenon in jewelry appraisals and those appraisals are not usually accurate. An appraisal that doesn’t accurately reflect the market value of a ring (what it would actually sell for) is not worth the paper it’s printed on.

    My engagement ring was handmade by an artist on etsy.com and I love it. The center stone is a rainbow moonstone. It’s beautiful, sentimental to me, and only cost $275. If anyone is looking for an engagement ring, you might want to go there and check out Heart of Water Jewels.

  81. LindaB says:


    Thank you for sharing your story. You made my day.

  82. Sharon says:

    We paid nothing for my ring. It belonged to my husband’s mother, who died when he was about 6 years old. Coincidentally, it is a style I would have chosen anyway: a simple white gold band with a solitaire diamond. And strangely, it didn’t even have to be re-sized for me!

    About a year later, I inherited a 2-carat diamond ring from a great aunt. Coincidentally, my brother had just gotten engaged but couldn’t afford a ring. So, I passed it to him to give to his now-wife.

    The values at which each of these rings were appraised were meaningless, since each is priceless due to their history and sentimental value. I never would have sold my great aunt’s ring, so I didn’t “lose” any money by giving it to my brother. And I wouldn’t have replaced my own ring with the larger 2-carat diamond, due to the sentimental value of my own ring.

  83. LauraC says:

    What a wonderful story, i’m glad to hear you have such fond memories.

    I think most of Trent’s advice is pretty sound, taken in the context of what he regularly preaches on his site. There is absolutely no reason to put yourself into debt for the rest of your lives together, but there are plenty of reasons to make it special.

    I do agree that certain couples should have a pre-nup, and that is when it is not a first marriage for one or both of the parties. There could be estate considerations with step-children, etc. Or even with a first marriage, issues with a family business partly belonging to one of the spouses. Otherwise, as some of the posters here stated, with no prior assets there might not be a reason for a pre-nup. I don’t think it’s unromantic or untrustworthy to ask for one in some cases, but I agree that if the asker doesn’t trust the askee enough that they want a pre-nup, then they might not be the best suited couple for trust reasons, not necessarily for financial ones. I also think that if one party balks, find out why, don’t just dismiss that person as a potential mate. They might have a surmountable reason.

  84. Brandon says:

    A few people asked me to explain my comment, and maybe I should have done better at the time. I am going to keep this somewhat brief though since several people have reiterated my point more eloquently. Do a search on the page for “overdo” to read the relevant posts.

    What I was getting at was that I think that your proposal is a time that over-the-top is okay. Upon re-reading, I see that Trent was focused on the monetary aspect. I was commenting mainly from a perspective of seeing him talking about it from a total perspective, basically seeing it as him saying “don’t make the proposal a huge deal”. I saw this akin to the advice you see around Christmas on pfblogs that basically says “wait until the last minute to put up your tree, take it slow, and extend the season to New Years”. It is all a matter of taste. Some people want their kids to be excited about Christmas morning for weeks in advance. Some people want their proposal to be a spectacular event, others would prefer to make it more laid back.

    Nonetheless, from a monetary perspective, I think he is failing to consider that it still really depends on you and the person you are proposing to, your attitudes about life, etc. I am not saying that the location/expense should effect the outcome (if so, you really should not be getting married, same goes for ring size), but I am sure that many girls would appreciate a dinner at a nice restaurant rather than a dinner at Fazolis when you are proposing even if Fazolis would be a little bit more symbolic of something.

    For example, my first date with my girlfriend was a picnic at a park. I could have taken her there and proposed over PB&J, but instead I took her to a nice restaurant. I intended for us to go by the park afterwards, but unfortunately it was a bit late by the time we got done with dinner so I went with my alternate plan which was this nice secluded fountain area.

  85. partgypsy says:

    Many people have issues with diamonds for both relevant and irrelevant reasons, and I’m not going to get into them there. Suffice to say personally (and I’m sure I’m not the only one out there) I love and appreciate beautiful jewelry and gemstones. I would be hurt if my to- be-husband insulted and disparagaged my ring preferences by saying they are too expensive, a marketing gimmick, blood diamonds just to save himself some money. Please do not be judgemental of something that she values even if you do not!
    2) a fine piece of jewelry may be more affordable than one may think. Maybe not a large diamond solitaire, but a nice sapphire solitare, or a small ideal cut diamond, or a multiple diamond band.
    3) In summary, find out if a ring is important to her. Set a budget. Get her input. Is she willing to go estate? What about colored stones? And finally make it as high quality as you can for the price range. She will be hopefully be wearing it for many years, and may even pass it down to her children.

  86. Mule Skinner says:

    The model of man giving woman an engagement ring harks back to the days when men had all the money and women tried to squeeze as many gifts as possible out of them.

    My wife has me. I’m at home nights and not in the bars. I’m involved with the children: check their homework every night, go to all the school conferences, set moral and ethical examples for them. The house is paid off and we have no debt whatsoever. And she has the freedom of action and peace of mind that comes from not having to be concerned about what I may be up to, or how the bills will be paid.

    And if she had demanded a diamond, she would have none of this, at least not with me.

  87. partgypsy says:

    different strokes for different folks.

  88. tgrlil says:

    Trent, am wondering why you deleted my post regarding the relationship between rings, ego, and consumerism?

  89. Ling says:

    Here’s a lesson we’re learning the hard way. My fiance and I picked out the ring together months before we got engaged. It wasn’t really an engagement ring but it’s beautiful with a really unique setting that wasn’t expensive at all.

    Problem now? That “unique” setting means we have to pay to have a custom wedding band made to fit (unless we skip the wedding band and just use the engagment ring), so it’s made it more expensive than we expected.

    Still, wouldn’t change a thing but think it’s a good lesson to share.

  90. Matt says:

    I find it amazing that people need pre-wedding counseling in order to talk about things you may not have talked about. I thought people got married because the person they were with was someone they can talk to about anything, not hide things from, etc. The whole experience with the church FORCING you to take what amounts to marriage counseling is ridiculous. The sole intent is because the divorce rate through a Catholic church is high, and they want to pretend like they’re doing everything to make sure people are getting married for the right reasons.

    The church’s intentions are selfish, and will not help or prevent the divorce rate.

    I also don’t think getting your wife a nice ring is ludicrous. It’s a 30+ year investment (hopefully :)). If you’re pretty much saying you can’t afford, say, $1000, because you need to put that into the downpayment on a house, I’d consider that insulting if I was the wife, and I’m about as frugal as you can get. Not EVERYTHING has to be about the money… the whole point of being frugal is so you can spend money on things that are important. You shouldn’t have to talk your wife into wanting something less than what she wants.

    But I digress. If you’re making $100K/year and suddenly are expected to spend $20K (2-3 months after-tax income) on a ring, that’s ridiculous. In most cases, anything larger than a carat on a woman’s hand looks gaudy.

  91. Speaking from experience, I highly recommend long engagements . . . really get to know each other.

    As for engagement rings– it’s a symbol, spend less on it and save more for the future . . .

  92. Sandy says:

    Mule Skinner # 82
    You’re so right. I have a husband quite like yourself and I can tell any woman, it’s much better having a man like that then a $ 20,000 engagement ring.

    Mine cost $ 1,000 by the way and was paid for in cash. I was involved in picking it out. My financé told me his budget and we stayed well within that budget by my request. I love and cherish my ring. We were in a happy position were we could afford one.

    But we discussed money well before we got engaged. If we would have had no money at all, we still would have married and we would have done it at no cost, no rings, no big party nothing. Who needs all that? All I needed was to be with my beloved!!

  93. Mary says:

    Good advice. The only thing I care about for the engagement is that I don’t find out before he proposes. I’m confident he can keep the secret and know what kind of ring I’d like (I don’t wear much jewelry to begin with, but I’d definitely wear a wedding ring).

    But yes, I like the idea of having a prenup and going to pre-marriage counseling, as well as being brutally honest about each other’s finances. My boyfriend and I both have a lot of debt (student loans, credit cards) and that’s what we’re both working on right now – me getting a stable job, him getting his credit cards and car paid off, and saving money for down payments on stuff. We’re having a garage sale this weekend and hope to put the money towards debts, one of which being a washer. We want to have a manageable amount of debt before we get married.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *