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First Ring vs. Heirloom

When you know there will be another engagement ring in her future, how do you choose the one you’ll give her first?

Even if the two- to three-month salary rule of thumb is no longer the recommended budget for an engagement ring, you might be at a time in your life when you simply can’t spend a lot on your engagement ring. And that’s OK.

But how can you find a pretty, pleasing ring without looking cheap? What can you do to show your lifetime commitment if you can’t spend very much right now?

The young ones

When first starting out, couples often buy what they call their “starter home.” It’s smaller than they planned. The kitchen is out of the 1970s. The yard isn’t fenced and there’s no sun porch. But it’s in the town they love, and they know they’ll be happy there for a time. These couples know their choice is not their forever home, so they make the compromises they need to get into their first place.

If you’re in this situation as you consider proposing to your girlfriend, think of your engagement ring purchase in the same light. It’s the first one — the one she’ll always adore because you gave it to her on bended knee on that magical night on the hill where you met. That memory is forever.

But the first engagement ring needn’t be the “forever ring.” It’s definitely the forever symbol of your love, but it can be upgraded as your love and budget continue to grow.

If you’re worried that your engagement ring will look “small,” imagine a future where you can surprise her with the purchase you’d like to be making right now. Put yourself in that moment, and use it to shore up your confidence.

That future ring might not be a new ring. It might be one that incorporates the first engagement ring in some way. You might melt down the original metal for the new setting, or use the gem or gems as side stones to accentuate a new, bigger diamond. Or, you can present her with a promise ring that signifies your love with a promise of another, bigger ring to come, or an enhancer ring or anniversary band that, together with the original engagement ring, creates a bigger diamond look.

And there’s always the possibility that, because of how much she loves this first engagement ring — and you — she might not want another ring at all.

Spending money wisely

You can do the very best with what you’ve got to spend when you know how to spend it right. Consider the following ideas to wow her with what you can spend.

Work with a jeweler to prioritize your goals

First off, using a knowledgeable jeweler is key. You want someone who will work with you as a consultant, not a salesperson. And there is a difference. Consultants will spend time exploring your concerns and needs with you, inform you about diamonds and engagement rings, know what they’ve got in their inventory that will achieve your goals (or have access to additional options) and show you enough of a selection that you feel confident you made the right choice.

There are a variety of recommendations jewelers can make for engagement rings on smaller budgets. First, the obvious: smaller stones can be less expensive. So consider a smaller stone, but look for one to get the best cut for your budget. A dazzling smaller stone is more beautiful than a big diamond that’s a bit flat. Learn how to prioritize the 4Cs of diamonds and shop for a beautiful diamond on your budget.

Think about color

A trend right now is buying an engagement ring with diamonds in colors like black, brown, blue, green or yellow, or gemstones other than diamonds. Think a beautiful ruby, emerald, sapphire or tanzanite. These gemstones can potentially be less expensive than diamonds. This may allow you to get a bigger stone — if that’s the look you’re going for.

Just keep in mind the style of your fiancée-to-be. If she’s a traditionalist, white diamonds may be the only way to go. But if she’s always following the trends or creating her own, a color diamond or color gemstone engagement ring can be a terrific option.

The magic of multiples

Whether you choose the traditional diamond or a color diamond or gemstone, another way to wow without size is to use other diamonds surrounding the center stone. A halo ring can help you get a bigger diamond look. Or consider a narrow band set with pavé diamonds. With this style, many tiny diamonds are set in holes drilled super close to one another in the band. These happy sparklers can be very glamorous; even flashy. And buying multiple, smaller diamonds can be less expensive than buying a single diamond of equivalent carat weight.

Here’s the thing: No matter what style of budget engagement ring you chose, if it’s beautiful and she’s in love with you, the size of the diamond doesn’t matter — really. So get comfortable with the realities of your budget and start looking!

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