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5 Tips for Buying an Engagement Ring

February is a popular month for diamonds, with millions of couples becoming engaged on Valentine's Day, alone. If you're thinking of popping the question—and proposing with a diamond bauble—here are some important shopping tips to help you make the smartest purchase.

Ignore the 3-Month Salary Rule

Spending the traditional two to three month's salary is no longer the case, says Salim Shamy of LaViano Jewelers in New Jersey, a popular destination for engagement rings and wedding bands. In fact, in 2010, consumers spent an average of $5,392 on an engagement ring—or roughly, 10 percent of the average U.S. household income. These days, the purchase depends largely on one's financial situation, disposable income and savings. "Don't go beyond your ability," says Shamy. "If you prepare to spend $10,000, just make sure you're getting the best product at $10,000."

[See also: Celebrity Couples' Homes]

Tips to Buying an Engagement RingFebruary is a popular month for diamonds, with millions of couples becoming engaged on Valentine's Day, alone. Here are some important shopping tips to help you make the smartest purchase. Read the article here.

Study the Four C's

Before walking into a jewelry store, have some idea of what you want. Learn what makes a diamond special and what kind of diamond your special someone might prefer.

A diamond's rarity—and therefore its price—is determined by four unique characteristics: the Four C's: carat (the weight), clarity (the degree of flaws or blemishes), color (from colorless to yellow) and cut (the shape). This is the universal grading system used to objectively compare diamonds.

Pay Special Attention to the Cut

A diamond of a smaller carat, but with an exquisite cut, could take on the appearance of a much pricier gem. So much so that Shamy of LaViano Jewelers rates a diamond's cut or shape—ranging from excellent to poor—as the most important purchasing criteria, because it helps to determine its brilliance or "sparkle." The Gemological Institute of America (GIA) agrees, saying that the "allure of a particular diamond depends more on cut than anything else." Some of the key factors in a diamond's cut include its proportions, symmetry and polish.

[See also: 5 Things to Buy in February]

Choose the Stone First, Setting Second

Gem experts advocate buying a loose diamond first, then deciding on its setting. The diamond, after all, is the most important and expensive aspect of the ring. You want to be able to pick the best stone that fits your budget, and when the diamond is loose, you're better able to evaluate its 4 C's. Preset diamond rings tend to be slightly more expensive, as well.

Request Certification

All diamonds should come with a stone certificate, a document from an independent third-party authority, such as the GIA or the American Gem Society (AGS), which verifies its authenticity and description. Reputable jewelers should provide this without hesitation. If not, take that as the ultimate red flag that the diamond is not all its hyped up to be. The GIA Diamond Grading Report, for example, provides technical information, such as the dimensions, quality and characteristics of a loose diamond. For added piece of mind—and for insurance reasons—you may also want to have the diamond valued by an independent appraisal specialist.

Want to share your questions or thoughts about buying an engagement ring? Contact Farnoosh on Twitter @Farnoosh, using the hashtag #FinFit.

This article is part of a series related to being Financially Fit