Personal Finance

Tying the knot shouldn’t mean breaking the bank

Many personal occasions in our lives come with so much anticipation that common financial sense becomes less common.

Exhibit A: Getting married.

Many marriages start off with people immediately living above their means with unwise amounts of money spent on engagement and wedding bands, purchased on credit. That’s often accompanied by a costly wedding celebration, also financed. Savings accounts can be decimated by marriage-related expenses – to the detriment of the newlyweds’ long-term financial goals.

Couples often delay getting married – even though they may be living together or have children – because they say they can’t “afford” to tie the knot. But getting married doesn’t have to cost much. (All you really need is a marriage license.)

A friend who was planning to propose to his girlfriend asked me if it’s true that he should spend at least two months’ worth of income on the engagement ring.

I told him that ring rule is absurd, and even more so for people carrying student loans or consumer debt. A Google consumers’ survey of 5,000 people commissioned by found that 36 percent of respondents thought the right price for a ring should be less than $1,000. But 17 percent believed that when it comes to how much to spend on an engagement ring, “money is no object.”

I recently asked readers to share their stories of engagement rings that didn’t break the bank.

▪ “I wear my mother’s ring and he wears his father’s ring (both are deceased),” one reader wrote. “It’s a reminder of our parents’ love.”

▪ Another said: “I got a very respectable ring that I still wear and cherish, but — my husband — did wish it was bigger. However, I love that he did more with the money he could have spent. He paid off all his credit card debt before we got married. So, we both came into the marriage with only student loan debt, and our budget prioritizes getting rid of it!”

▪ Loved this from a male reader: “When me and my now wife got engaged, we really didn’t care about rings. My mom and my grandmother both offered their diamonds from previous rings so my wife could design her own ring. So my mom and my now wife spent an afternoon at the jewelry store trying out simple settings until she found one she liked, that wasn’t too expensive. Plus my grandmother’s diamonds were her grandmother’s, so my wife has 5th-generation diamonds.”

▪ Another guy wrote: “I spent $50 on my fiancee’s engagement ring, and she still thought it was too much! I couldn’t imagine being constantly worried while wearing a really expensive ring. And we spent $70 on custom-made wedding bands we got on vacation. The rings don’t mean nearly as much as our memories and what they represent – I’d rather save to retire early and spend more time together.”

The following story turned out well for one guy. But, fellas, be careful of using this money-saving strategy: “When my in-laws got engaged, my father-in-law told my mother-in-law that a large stone wouldn’t look nice on her small finger. He bought her a smaller diamond. Fast-forward almost 66 years later, and the marriage has lasted.”

One reader said she had a choice – an engagement ring or a honeymoon in Australia.

“The trip memories have been worth so much more than something I’d store in a safe deposit box,” she wrote.

Here’s a story from a reader about her sister’s wedding band: “Her ring’s diamond comes from her husband’s grandmother, but the setting was too damaged to continue to wear. When they went looking for a setting, they found the perfect one, but it was ‘on clearance.’ When they asked why, the salesperson said that no one wanted to buy a setting that had a visible inclusion. My sister snapped it up; she treats the inclusion as the birthmark of her ring. To be honest, I couldn’t see the inclusion, so it looked perfect to me.”

Another reader wrote: “My boyfriend (now husband of almost six years) and I went window shopping together – and I’m so glad we did. He would have spent the three months’ salary (or whatever the silly rule is). And he would have gotten me something blingy, bulky, and I probably would have been afraid to wear it.”

Speaking of being afraid to wear a bling ring, I'll end on this note from a reader: “When I was a teen, my neighbor got engaged, and the ring was so expensive they had a lookalike fake made that she could wear while the real one stayed in a safe. Seemed incredibly ridiculous to me.”

Me too.