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Pittsburgh – Not long after David Short and Zia Marinzel began dating their junior year of high school, Marinzel began drawing a mental picture of her ideal engagement ring. The image became so clear for Short over the next eight years that when he went shopping last June he knew right away when he had found the right ring.

The centerpiece diamond was circled by 35 smaller diamonds set in a platinum band. Although the $5,000 price tag represented about three months of his annual income as a budding real estate flipper, the 24-year-old Pittsburgh resident said it was in the price range he was willing to pay.

“My rationale was that I went into the store knowing exactly what she wanted and in order to get that ring I had to spend $5,000. But I didn’t want to go much over that,” Short said.

The amount of money he spent fits squarely in the range of what the jewelry industry has for decades been preaching to consumers — that a groom-to-be should spend two to three months of salary on the ring.

But how valid is that standard in a modern world where millennials are saddled with student loans, scraping by on low-paying entry-level jobs and challenged with a high cost of living?

“This isn’t the 1950s anymore. This rule is just simply outdated,” said David Weliver, founder of Moneyunder30.com, a personal advice website for millennials based in Portland, Maine.

“Whether it’s two or three months’ salary, that’s what a diamond company would love to have you spend,” he said. “It comes down to what couples agree should be the best financial decision for their future. Their financial destinies will be intertwined and a diamond is not the best investment for them.

“It’s not the same as buying a home, going back to school, or saving for retirement or kids they may want to have,” he said.

Weliver said his website recently asked readers for comments on the topic of engagement rings and the majority indicated that spending two to three months’ salary was out of bounds. They were more inclined to look for an alternative to diamonds or to buy a more modest diamond ring.

Some people have no trouble affording costly engagement rings, especially if they have no significant debt and they have saved for the purchase. But these buyers are typically older, either in their late 30s or early 40s, and established in their careers, said John Henne, owner of Henne Jewelers, where Short made his big purchase.

It’s not unusual for couples that fit that profile to spend more than $25,000 on an engagement ring, he said, adding that the selection in his shop ranges from $1,000 to $100,000. The average cost of a one-carat diamond engagement ring in the store, he said, runs between $10,000 to $12,000.

“We had two people recently get engaged and they’re not out of college yet,” Henne said. “One of them made money detailing cars. The other does landscaping. They saved the money and they spent more than the national average (about $6,000) even though they are still in college and have no career.”

While the jeweler sees two to three months’ salary as a reasonable benchmark, he also acknowledged times have changed. Young people often are not only buying the ring, but also are responsible for paying the lion’s share of the wedding costs.

According to a San Francisco wedding planner service called Thumbtack, couples are planning to spend an average of $12,000 on wedding services this year, an increase of 20 percent from last year.

“I just encourage them to be thoughtful about planning for the whole package,” Henne said. “There’s a lot of money going out for that stage – the honeymoon, the wedding band, the engagement ring, the ceremony and potentially thinking about buying a first home.”

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