How to Buy a Cheap Engagement Ring That Doesn't Look Cheap

By Sheryl Nance-Nash Updated on May 8, 2019

You have a big heart and a small bank account  — and now it’s time to buy your beloved an engagement ring. You want to impress, but you also have a limited budget.

The last thing you want to do is put yourself in a deep hole buying a ring you can’t afford. After all, you’re hoping to get married! You have a wedding, honeymoon and the rest of your lives together — you don’t want to start off burdened with debt.

Worry not. You can get a ring you’ll both love, that looks good and won’t cost you your first-born.

Consider the 4 Cs — but only so much

Getting a little bit technical can be a great way to save money when buying a diamond engagement ring. But you don't need to know everything there is to know.

Your diamond grading report is key. It will help you compare the stone you're thinking is the one to those sold elsewhere. The report will give you the details on the 4 Cs – carat, cut, color and clarity.

Cut counts most

When it comes to diamonds it’s all about the cut. The cut determines the beauty and that twinkle-twinkle that will make the ring a treasure to behold.

Of course, cut preferences are highly individualistic, so try to get a sense of what your lady would prefer before you start shopping. Showing up with a pear-shaped diamond when she wants a round stone could be a recipe for disappointment.

Be flexible with color

To save money, get a lower color rating (I, J, K) and use two tricks — gold settings and fluorescence — to your advantage.

Diamond insiders know that the gold or rose-gold setting will contrast with the diamond, making it look whiter.

Then consider fluorescence, which is the tendency of some diamonds to emit a soft-colored glow when put under a black light. Fluorescence can create an interesting optical illusion in that it can make certain types of diamonds appear up to one-grade whiter.

There are two pieces of good news here:

  1. Only a gemologist using a special UV light will be able to spot fluorescence, and
  2. Diamonds with fluorescence may sell at up to a 15% discount.

Your best bet is to stick to faint to medium blue fluorescence. It you’re buying a rock bigger than two carats, be stick to medium fluorescence or below.

Don’t go crazy over clarity

If you can’t see any imperfections in a stone without magnification, you’re good to buy. To save money, buy the lowest clarity grade.  Relax, it will mirror a flawless diamond.  

An SI2 clarity diamond will also save you about 30% compared to a VS2 clarity diamond.

See also: Are You Financially Compatible? 5 Questions to Ask Before Getting Engaged

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How to shop

Do a little bit of homework first

Look at comparable stones online and in-person before you buy.

For example, do you see a stone for $5,000 that is being sold for $8,000 elsewhere? Similarly, do you see a stone that’s nearly a carbon copy for $3,000?

As a general rule of thumb, if a deal seems too good to be true oftentimes it is. Truth is, the $3,000 stone may be cloudy or lab-grown. It pays to take a bit of time to compare before going for lowest-cost stone.

Go to consignment stores

You may luck out on estate jewelry or barely used pieces that are less expensive than you’d find at your local jeweler.

Or, you may even find a beautiful ring that has a stone other than a diamond, which could be a great selection if your loved one appreciates things that are unconventional.

Know who you’re buying from

 Make sure the business is reputable. Get your sleuthing hat out and hit the Internet — read every review you can find.

Don’t go alone

Take a friend or family member who has great taste with you when you shop. Ask them to help you stay on budget while keeping your wish list in mind.

Buy online

You know that when you buy most things online you can often get a better deal because sellers don’t have the expenses of the brick and mortar stores. That goes for jewelry too.

Do some hunting on sites like and elsewhere. Spend time browsing, even if you just use the suggestions as a starting point.

You might also want to check out That site boasts a huge number of talented jewelry makers who specialize in unique engagement rings at very reasonable prices. Many of these sellers have a lot of buyer reviews on their profiles, so you can be more confident that you’ll be getting a quality ring.

Don’t shop retail

This is one of the easiest ways to save money on a diamond ring. Work with a wholesaler and save yourself thousands by not shopping at a big box store.

Don't believe the hype

Don’t buy into the whole “three months’ salary” myth. You DO NOT have to spend three month’s salary on an engagement ring. In fact, most people shouldn’t.

Though the average cost of an engagement ring was just over $6,000 as of 2016, you can get one for much less.

Be creative

If you have ability to do so, re-use a stone that is in the family. Have it re-set it in a new setting and band. It’s way cheaper than buying new.

How to pay for the ring and beyond

Instead of taking out a loan to purchase an engagement ring, it's a good idea to find ways to pay for the ring without taking on more debt.

Refinancing your student loans could reduce your monthly payments by up to $250 or more. Check out our Refi Ready calculator to find out how much you could save.   

About the Author
Sheryl Nance-Nash

Sheryl Nance-Nash is a freelance writer based in New York City. She specializes in personal finance, business, small business, and travel topics. Her articles have appeared in Money, Newsday, The New York Times,,,,, among others. When she's not writing about retirement, taxes, student loans, credit, debt, and everything under the personal finance umbrella, she writes about businesses—big and small—their victories and the challenges they face. Sheryl is married with a grown daughter. Her favorite pasttime is traveling. She loves chronicling her adventures and exploring new places and cultures. Read more by Sheryl Nance-Nash