When I was 22 years old and in law school, I had $10,000. I earned this money from a variety of jobs from babysitter, to waitress and then the more lucrative position as summer associate at a New York City law firm.
Then my grandmother told me she was thinking about selling her engagement ring. It was a 2-plus-carat, stunning cut and clarity diamond. She had owned lots of jewelry and had bought and sold pieces throughout her life, and I had always admired the beautiful stones that dazzled on her fingers, arms, and neck.
Before she took the ring to market, she offered it me. She would sell it for the discounted price of $10,000 (retail $12,000). I was in law school and was dating a guy, but was nowhere near or even thinking about getting engaged or buying an engagement ring. Yet here I was being offered the opportunity to purchase this exquisite ring for a steal! I jumped at it without a second thought.
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Years later when I met my now-ex husband, he got me and the diamond. He didn’t have to buy an engagement ring at all. Can you imagine? And since we almost immediately (and foolishly) shared all of the money, he didn’t pay a cent. I joyfully became engaged in and then happily wore my hard-earned ring for more than two decades (never disclosing the true history to the many who oohed and ahhed over it).
Back to the present. In meeting with my favorite group – young professionals – and after explaining the virtues of saving, the demons of credit card debt, and a few valuable credit report tips, I asked the room if anyone had any questions.
One brave young lawyer said he was thinking about becoming engaged. He asked how I felt about his purchasing a $15,000 engagement ring. Before commenting, and knowing nothing of his finances, I asked for opinions around the room.
The conversation was fully charged with loud and rambunctious opinions about how much to spend on an engagement ring. Two or three months’ of salary was the “standard calculation”. Another lawyer said he had spent six months’ salary on his wife’s ring (and now thinks it should have been a lease option, as the marriage is ending). Another commented that we should separate the responses by those who are still or never were married, from the answers of the jaded divorced.
When the conversation turned back to me, I suggested a different solution. How about if you bought her a ring? Not a diamond engagement ring, but another really beautiful ring, and took the remaining $13,000 or $14,000 and jointly invested it in your future lives together? That was met with horror and shock by most of the group.
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I listened to refrains of “you don’t know my girlfriend” and “there is an expectation for a ring” and “that is no way to start a marriage”. Of course, this brings me to my favorite refrain: “DON’T BE THE AVERAGE AMERICAN”.
Is it really benefitting your future together to have your fiancé (and then wife) walking around with $15,000 on her finger?
For what? What if you took that same money and invested it in your future lives together? After all, isn’t it a future life you are committing to? – and watched it grow, wouldn’t that really be the clever way to start building your new family? Diamond now, or a more secure financial future?
You can only earn so much money in the hours you physically work. The real key to building wealth is the money you make in your sleep.
You can’t be earning any future benefits from goods purchased and consumed.
Perhaps a diamond will keep its value better than other consumer purchases. But historically speaking, it is never going to compound in value.
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Then, I suggested buying a cubic zirconia, with full disclosure to the fiancé. Who is going to know if it is a “real” diamond? Is anyone going to actually question you about it? And then who are you trying to impress? And why?
Grandma Sylvia’s ring now sits in the dark safe. It earns nothing and means nothing. Had I invested that $10,000 in 1988, now 28 years later, at a conservative 6 percent compounding (tax-free) interest rate, I would now have over $51,000. If it earned interest at 10 percent, I would have $144,000!
Did I enjoy wearing my grandma’s ring? Yes, I did. Would I rather have that money in the bank now? Yeah, I would!
Can you actually talk about this before you insist that you know your fiancé must have a diamond ring? Do you talk to each other logically about what your personal goals for the future are and how you are going to realistically, using math and compound interest calculators, achieve those goals?
Can you see that wearing a diamond ring is not going to produce increased value or furnish you the ultimate happiness that security and planning together for a lifetime of success will provide?
Before you spend two or three or more months’ worth of your hard earned salary on something that the Joneses have, or you think the Joneses want you to have, please consider your options and talk to your future spouse about what the value of an engagement ring means to the two of you. Once she has the facts, she may surprise you.
This article originally appeared on Financial Poise.
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