Despite the confused looks, I’m 100% happy with my decisions to forgo an engagement ring.
When my fiancé and I met with the wedding coordinator at our venue she immediately exclaimed, “let me see the ring!” I involuntarily and sheepishly showed her my empty left ring finger and endured the awkward pause that occurs when people realize I don’t have the typical symbol of being engaged.
This has been a relatively common occurrence over the past few months. The obvious stares at my bare hand. The questions. The “oh, that’s interesting” responses. It makes people uncomfortable when you question or reject social norms in general, but there’s something about the lack of an engagement ring that causes people to scratch their heads.
Why wouldn’t I want an engagement ring? The simple answer is opportunity cost. A more complex answer is that I’m not a fan of the expectations and inferences about engagement rings.
This post is in no way a rant against anyone who received or bought an engagement ring to symbolize their love and commitment. I love love. I love weddings. But there are some things about the “wedding-industrial complex” that give me pause. One of those is society’s preoccupation with spending “three month’s salary” on a diamond because it’s someone we should do.
I share my engagement ring views with students not as a way to discourage their desire for one – or to prompt them to reject all consumerism – but rather because it is the best example of opportunity cost in my life. Also, I consistently encourage students to focus on their priorities and happiness throughout my personal finance unit, and having an engagement ring does not align with my own values and focus. If an engagement ring brings you or your partner joy, that’s wonderful! Cherish it like you would any part of your relationship! But if you’re not sure about spending thousands on an engagement ring, you’re not alone.
Part I: Engagement Rings and Opportunity Cost
The simple reason why I do not want an engagement ring is opportunity cost. When buying diamonds, the conventional advice is to consider the 4Cs—cut, color, clarity and carat–but I’d add an “OC” for opportunity cost.
Even in my past relationship, I was clear with my serious boyfriend that an engagement ring didn’t really excite me. I have friends that designed their own rings as teenagers or constantly browse jewelry stores online, but that’s not me. Plus, rings are not conducive for pull ups on the rig in Crossfit classes, so I’d end up dealing with the hassle of taking it on and off and worrying about losing it.
The bottom line is that engagement rings can be expensive – and the way I see it, that money could be used on things that bring me more joy than jewelry. (Seriously, my jewelry collection is pitiful to most and half of the items were bridesmaid gifts. But I’m cool with it.) If I wanted an engagement ring, I would consider the tradeoffs. For simplicity, let’s assume my fiancé planned to spend $6,000 on a ring (which is right around the average cost of an engagement ring in 2018). I would immediately think, damn $6,000 could buy some plane tickets to somewhere amazing. That’s how my mind works. I prioritize travel and almost always think of expensive purchases as “where could this get me?”
Recognizing your highest valued tradeoff, your opportunity cost, is important when spending money in a mindful way. I told my fiancé I would rather focus the hypothetical “ring money” on our honeymoon or put it toward our wedding fund because my one rule about our wedding is that I refuse to go into debt for the awesome things we want (cool venue, open bar, great food). An amazing trip and debt-free celebration are so much more valuable to me, which is why I’m not too keen on the expensive ring. (Note: If he were to have some sort of family heirloom, I would proudly wear a ring that is important to his family and did not cost “honeymoon money.” For the record, he did buy me a small sentimental gift to celebrate our engagement and it’s personal, lovely, and didn’t push him into any sort of debt.)
We have good friends that got engaged last year and her ring is absolutely beautiful. Even I can appreciate it. The future groom told us the ring cost $16,000 and he financed half of that amount. Yikes. Learning that made me immediately reassess my view of her ring. Yes it’s gorgeous, but when I see it I think of how they said they need to put off getting their first home because they don’t have the down payment. Buying an expensive ring is one thing, but going thousands of dollars into debt for something material does not seem like healthy spending to me.
Part II: The “baggage” of engagement rings
I don’t have any issue with wedding rings. In fact, my fiancé and I browsed wedding rings when we were in Australia over the summer. I love that we’re planning to get our rings together and I’m excited for both of us to wear them to symbolize our commitment. Wedding rings to me don’t seem to be weighted with the same “baggage” as engagement rings. And I see most of this baggage come out on social media.
The friend with the $16,000 ring of course posted pictures of the ring on social media. She is understandably excited to get married and wanted to share the news with her social circles. But the comments on her photo of the ring got me. Many echoed this sentiment: “That ring is so big. He must really love you!”
Comments like this bother me so much. I find the expectation that we spend a lot of money or go into debt to “prove” our love with material goods off-putting. To me, some of the over-the-top financed engagement rings I see on social media represent out-of-date gender roles and expectations. And I would assume that it’s exhausting for men in heterosexual relationships who feel pressure to show love and status with their wallet.
I don’t want to reduce a wonderful, supportive relationship to one object. And I know most people don’t consciously think that way or may see me as overreacting, but I think it can reflect an unhealthy social norm. I’ve seen the idea of “proving” love through materialism manifest itself in various ways – Expensive dinners for Valentine’s Day. Elaborate birthday gifts. Heck, even high school students pressured to arrange some over-the-top “Promposal.” When these shows of affection are simply done to flaunt an ideal of love (or send the buyer deep into debt), I’m skeptical of motivates and intentions.
Measuring love, or success, in terms material goods is a dangerous game. Keeping up with appearances or simply going along with social norms although they don’t bring joy to your life is draining. It can contribute to pressure to go into debt or indifference about saving or amassing wealth (Am I the only one who finds a big 401(k) balance sexier than a new diamond necklace?).
This may be surprising, but “gift giving” is actually one of my top love languages. I adore the “I saw this and I thought of you” small surprises from my fiancé or my mom or friends. However, I question when gift giving doesn’t come from a place of “I love you,” and more from a place of “this is so everyone can see how much I love you.”
In short, I don’t find anything inherently bad or wrong about engagement rings, gifts, or celebrations of love. I always come back to the fact that our choices, especially financial ones, should reflect our true values and goals. People, like my wedding coordinator, may give weird looks when you reject any sort of cultural norm, but that’s ok. We should spend consciously and authentically, even when it comes to important milestones and people in our lives.
When is a time that you rejected a purchase or a social norm in order to stay true to your values? How do your opportunity costs impact your purchases?