3 ways to save money on an engagement ring

Get your money's worth
photo courtesy flickr user ilovebutter

(MoneyWatch) Sweet lovers love the spring, Shakespeare once said, adding that springtime is "the only pretty ring time." But if you're looking to get engaged in the next few months, you may be disheartened by the price tag on diamond engagement rings, particularly if you're still dealing with student loan debt. Or you may just shrewdly note that the thousands of dollars people spend on engagement rings could go to other things you and your spouse-to-be might enjoy more: travel, a house downpayment, babysitters later in your marriage, etc.

Here are three romantic ways to spend less:

1. Nix the diamond mindset. There is absolutely no reason to insist on a diamond engagement ring. It's not dictated by religion, and isn't even that traditional. Many people didn't sport diamond engagement rings two or three generations ago. The downside of diamonds is that when everyone buys the same thing, it's easy to compare on size, and the human desire to keep up with the Joneses induces people to spend more than they should. But if what you want is size, laugh at the Joneses and buy something else. In my personal finance book, "All the Money in the World," I profile a young couple that bought a sapphire ring with intricate lattice work. It's beautiful and so sizable it's hard not to notice...but cost less than $300.

2. Buy a "pre-loved" diamond. Josh Opperman got engaged a few years ago, then came home to his apartment one day to find his girlfriend had moved out. She'd left the ring. So what should he do with it? He wound up starting a website called I Do Now I Don't to help people sell what he and his sister (and colleague) Mara call "pre-loved" jewelry. Visitors to the website can often buy rings you'd see in major jewelry stores in the neighborhood of 50-60 percent off. Worried about the karma of a ring that's from a broken engagement? Mara jokes that they do a "karma cleanse" on jewelry but also notes that many stores have return policies, restocking rings people bring back. "Chances are you could be wearing something that's re-used and you'd have no idea," she says. You might as well get a discount for it.

3. Honor your family. There's also a green element to the question of engagement rings. Stones and the metal used in bands need to be mined, with all the environmental damage that entails. If you're not set on a certain sized diamond, you and your beloved can ask grandmothers, aunts and other relatives if they have old jewelry they'd like to see repurposed. A clever jewelry designer can work with you to create a ring from these stones or a band that fits that's uniquely yours, giving life to pieces that might otherwise sit in a jewelry box. It's a wonderful way to get at the old-fashioned idea of bringing two families together. It also makes a much better story to tell people about the ring than, "Yeah, we got it at the mall."

Photo courtesy of Flickr user ilovebutter.