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Jeff Bezos reportedly spent upwards of $5 million on Lauren Sanchez's engagement ring — but what should the average person spend?

By Nicole Lyn Pesce

How much should you spend on an engagement ring? Here's what to know when shopping for a ring -- and how you can save some money without sacrificing quality

It looks like Jeff Bezos rocked his new fiancee's world, all right.

As news broke this week that the Amazon (AMZN) founder and third-richest person in the world was engaged to media personality Lauren Sanchez, all eyes were on the ring that helped Bezos seal the deal.

Some estimates, based on pictures of Sanchez wearing the ring while the couple yachted off the coast of Cannes, France, guessed the diamond to be around 20 carats, putting the sparkler in the $2.5 million range. Others have guessed 30 carats, with Maxwell Stone from Steven Stone Jewellers reportedly telling the publication Hello that the ring could be worth as much as $3.5 million. People magazine is running with an estimate of $3 million to more than $5 million.

That's just a drop in the bucket for Bezos, of course, whose net worth hovers around $138.8 billion, according to Forbes.

But how does that compare with what the average person drops on a ring before they drop down on one knee?

Wedding-planning website The Knot surveyed more than 12,000 couples across the U.S. for its 2022 Real Weddings Study and found they spent an average of $5,800 on the engagement ring, with roughly one-third spending between $1,000 and $4,000. A 2018 American Wedding Study from Brides magazine put the average amount spent on an engagement ring at $7,829, although the COVID-19 pandemic dropped that average down to $3,756 in 2020.

And while you should be sure to measure your intended's ring finger for a perfect fit, wedding-industry insiders say there's actually plenty of wiggle room when it comes to how much to spend on an engagement ring. In fact, 8% of The Knot's respondents spent less than $1,000 on a ring last year.

And that old rule of thumb about spending three months' salary on an engagement ring has been widely condemned as outdated and overpriced. A 2019 New York Times piece suggested more people were going with two weeks' salary.

"We're here to say that this is an arbitrary rule, and people shouldn't feel pressured to spend any specific amount of money on an engagement ring," Sarah Hanlon, the entertainment and celebrity editor of The Knot, told MarketWatch. "It really depends on [the couple's] specific financial situation."

And she notes that the average $6,000 figure is just that -- an average. Plenty of people spend much less. And some people -- among them billionaires like Bezos -- spend a lot more.

The price of an engagement ring varies due to a number of factors. A ring bought in New York City is going to cost more than one bought in the Midwest, for example, The Knot's research found. But more specifically, the size, type and quality of the gem or gems -- especially the center stone -- as well as the setting and the type of metal used in the band all factor into the cost of a ring.

"We recommend using these numbers as a general guideline to serve as a basis to understanding what other people are paying," Hanlon said. "And then you can use that to really understand your financial situation and find a number that works for your budget."

But perhaps even more important, what your partner wants should play a big part in what the ring looks like and what it costs. Your significant other is going to be the one wearing this ring every day, so getting their feedback -- do they want something minimalist, would they prefer a lab-grown diamond, do they even want a diamond at all -- should be a key part of the ring-shopping process. And these considerations could also have a big effect on the price. In fact, one in four women say they want input on the ring budget, according to a Credit Donkey report, and 36% of women think an engagement ring should cost less than $1,000.

"It's no longer taboo to talk about what you want your engagement ring to look like, because it's a huge purchase. It's something you're going to wear every day for the rest of your life," said Hanlon. "So throw the awkwardness out the window! Sit down and have a conversation. Go window-shopping to level-set expectations, and figure out what your partner wants."

What to know before shopping for a ring

Know the four C's. If you're going with a diamond as the center stone (which 85% of The Knot's respondents did), then you need to remember the four C's: cut, color, clarity and carat. As Brides explains, the cut refers to shape of the diamond -- and how much it's going to sparkle. Color runs along a D-Z scale, with D denoting a completely colorless stone, which is the most expensive, and Z signifying a light yellow hue. Clarity refers to the number of natural imperfections present in the diamond and whether you can see them with the naked eye. And carat measures the actual weight of the diamond.

Set a budget -- together. Deciding what to spend on an engagement ring is a personal decision that's going to be different for every couple, but many wedding-industry experts caution against going into debt over it -- especially if you're already paying off student loans and perhaps also saving up to buy a home or start a family. If you're planning to spend the rest of your lives together, then it's important to be on the same page when it comes your finances. You'll be in good company: The Knot's 2022 survey found that 90% of Gen Z couples discussed their finances before getting engaged, as did 86% of millennial couples.

"The No. 1 thing we recommend is for couples to do their research and talk to each other," Hanlon said.

Shop around and compare prices. Don't rely on love at first sight when it comes to the ring. Even if you think you've hit on the perfect ring for your partner, Brides.com recommends browsing rings online that are a similar style at different price points before you make your final decision. You never know -- you could discover that the ring you had your heart set on is priced well above (or well below) the average. Your research could further justify your purchase, or you may hit upon an even better fit.

Speak with jewelers, either online or in person. There's a lot to consider when shopping for an engagement ring -- and in particular for a diamond. Hanlon urges couples to go to a local jeweler to talk through what they're looking for and to try some rings on to get a feel for how they actually look. If you can't visit a jeweler in person, plenty of online sellers can also set up Zoom calls, chat online or on the phone, and even sometimes mail mocked-up rings (they won't have a real gemstone, of course) to help you shop remotely. The Knot suggests some sellers on its marketplace.

"The good news is that there are so many resources online," Hanlon said. "But check out [a jeweler's] social media, read the comments ... make sure the brand has great reviews."

Don't forget the insurance. This is a major purchase, and you need to protect it. Brides notes that insurance will generally run 1% to 2% of your ring's value, which means spending $10 to $20 a year on a $1,000 ring, or $60 to $120 a year on a $6,000 ring. This can also vary depending on where you live.

How to save money on a ring without sacrificing quality

The three months' salary rule is a myth! Don't buy into this idea, which was originated by the De Beers diamond company in a 1930s marketing campaign. The company obviously had a vested interest in getting people to spend more money on diamonds -- during the Great Depression, no less. The ad campaign convinced men to spend roughly one month's salary on an engagement ring, which has been inflated to three months' salary over time. If you want to go big, and your partner agrees, then of course you should go big. But you should spend what you can comfortably afford, and you should get feedback from your intended life partner on how much to put toward the ring.

About those four C's ... Looking at stones on the lower end of the color and clarity scales can seriously slash cost without sacrificing how the stone looks. As as long as you can't see any imperfections (or "inclusions" in industry lingo) with the naked eye, then you're in the clear. Going for a "Slightly Included" diamond versus a "Very Very Slightly Included" (the second-most expensive) stone of the exact same carat, color and cut could save you thousands of dollars. Or consider the shape: Hanlon notes that oval-cut stones hide inclusions well. "So if you want a huge oval ring, you might be able to spend a little more on carat by getting something slightly included that still looks flawless," she said.

Color, meanwhile, is a personal preference, so see what your partner thinks about sliding away from that pricey colorless D tier. And when it comes to carats, while a 2-carat diamond and a 1.8-carat diamond are going to look almost identical, cutting off that 0.2 carat can shave down the price by up to 20% This tactic of buying a stone just shy of a whole-carat weight is called "buying shy" in the biz. "A jeweler can walk you through this," Hanlon said.

Consider lab-grown diamonds. Natural diamonds are indeed expensive, with the average 1-carat stone running $2,000 to $16,000, The Knot notes. But lab-grown diamonds can cost 40% to 50% less than natural diamonds of similar size and quality, and the cost difference can even greater for larger-carat weights and fancy-colored diamonds. And lab-grown diamonds (which, as the name implies, means they were created by scientists and not mined from the Earth) are one of The Knot's hottest engagement ring trends of 2023, with the site's 2022 Engagement Study finding that nearly 40% of surveyed couples saying that they bought an engagement ring with a lab-grown center stone.

Another benefit of lab-grown diamonds, which are chemically the same as mined diamonds, is that they are ethically sourced.

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05-27-23 1426ET

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