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5 Ways to Save on an Engagement Ring

December is the most popular time of the year to get engaged, according to The Knot , an online wedding marketplace. So, if you are thinking of popping the question, you may be wondering how to buy an engagement ring without bankrupting your future. It's no secret engagement rings have a reputation for being expensive. Plus, selecting the right diamond, cut and color can be stress-inducing enough.

With that in mind, if you are wondering how much an engagement ring should cost and how you can save without compromising on quality, here are some expert-backed strategies to avoid overspending and ensure you make the right investment.

[See: 10 Tips for Couples and Young Families to Build Wealth.]

How Much Should You Spend on an Engagement Ring?

The average engagement ring cost, according to The Knot's 2018 Real Weddings Study, which surveyed more than 14,000 couples who got married in 2018, is $5,680.

But you don't need to break the bank to buy a high-quality diamond ring. Abby Sparks, CEO and founder of Abby Sparks Jewelry, a custom jewelry design store in Denver, says "The three months' salary rule is completely untrue because it has absolutely no basis in reality. Everyone's preferences and dream rings are different. There isn't a one-size-fits-all guideline to how much you should spend on your engagement ring. Depending on what your partner wants in this ring and how much you make, it could be way too much budget for what you need, or it could be completely not enough."

Ways to Save Money on an Engagement Ring

Once you make a concrete budget for your bling, you'll want to take a variety of factors into the decision-making process to pick the right piece of jewelry for your better half. Here are smart ways to find a reputable retailer and reduce the cost.

1. Comparison shop. The more research you do, the better informed you'll be to make a smart decision. In addition to checking local retailers, look online.

"It's very important to buy a diamond with an unbiased, third-party grading report," says Jonathan Goldberg, founder of Kimberfire, a jewelry store in Toronto that specializes in engagement rings. "The most reputable grading laboratory in the industry is the Gemological Institute of America. Their founder actually created the 4Cs grading standard the industry relies upon today. Other labs are generally for-profit, while the GIA is nonprofit, and many are known to be more lenient -- meaning you may not know what you are actually purchasing."

[See: Love and Money: 8 Signs You're Financially Compatible. ]

2. Learn about the four Cs. It's important to understand key diamond details to make the right long-term investment. For instance, the more carats a diamond has, the bigger (and more expensive) it is. Obviously, many people want bigger diamond rings, but if you're willing to shave a few carats off the size of your ring, you'll likely save more. The fewer the flaws a diamond ring has also adds to the price. There's a scale used by the gemstone industry that ranges from Flawless (FL) diamonds, which are extremely rare, to an Included (I3) diamond, which has the most imperfections and is a less expensive option.

3. Consider lab grown diamonds or a diamond alternative. Sparks suggests considering lab grown diamonds instead of mined diamonds. While many diamonds are mined ethically, a good portion aren't. Many diamonds are mined by workers who are paid extremely low wages, and some are forced into labor. A major upside with lab grown diamonds is the peace of mind that what you're purchasing is not a conflict diamond, also known as a blood diamond.

"The United States Federal Trade Commission stated last summer that lab diamonds and mined diamonds are the same thing -- real diamonds. They are not CZ's (cubic zirconia, a man-made crystallized material) or diamond simulants, so they are a great option for your engagement ring," Sparks says.

For the uninitiated, diamond simulants are stones that share some properties as diamonds but are not actual diamonds. If you do want a cost-effective diamond, you could consider getting a diamond simulant. As for the cost, you can generally find them in the hundreds of dollars, and sometimes for less than a hundred.

Lab grown diamonds are created far faster than diamonds form in nature -- and are often about 30% less expensive than mined diamonds.

4. Consult your relatives. Sean Potter, a financial analyst and St. Paul, Minnesota-based blogger behind the My Money Wizard finance blog, says he selected an engagement ring that cost him virtually nothing.

"When my fiancée and I got engaged, we decided to completely ditch the three months' salary advice. We always thought this money could be better spent on a honeymoon or even saving for our future. So instead, we found a diamond ring that's a beautiful family heirloom from a long lost great aunt," Potter says. All told, it cost him $113 to resize the ring.

5. Consider your partner's style. Brittany Kline, who oversees the The Savvy Couple blog with her husband, Kelan, suggests not stressing over the ring too much if money is an issue. "In my opinion, an engagement ring is not about money," Kline says. "An engagement ring is a symbol of two people's incredible journey of love they are about to vow to one another."

[Read: Can Lying to Vendors Help You Avoid the 'Wedding Markup'?]

She suggests that if you want to get married and don't have enough money for the traditional engagement ring, and that's what you want, "buy a ring you can afford at the moment as an engagement ring. Then when you are more financially secure, you can go wedding ring shopping together and purchase a more expensive ring that is in the budget."

It may not sound romantic, but going into a lot of credit card debt over an engagement ring won't make for a great love story or start to your marriage.>

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