How to buy a cheap engagement ring

9 ways to save money on your diamond ring

So you’re looking for an engagement ring but you don’t have much to spend?

Well, here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to talk about buying an engagement ring on a budget and making sure that you get as much ring for your money, rather than looking for an out and out ‘cheap’ ring. Read on to find out how to get a great ring without you having to resort to eating baked beans on toast for dinner for the next 6 months.

Cheap rings bring to mind imitation diamonds, and although that miiiiight seem like a good idea right now, it won’t seem quite so smart when the cubic zirconia breaks 6 months down the road and you have to explain to an angry now-wife how this happened!

What’s great is that it is still definitely possible to get a fantastic diamond engagement ring on a budget, if you know where to shop and what to look out for.

1. Budgeting

First order of business is to set a budget and make sure you stick to it.

A. Set a budget

Work out how much you can comfortably afford to spend and write this figure down. A good way to look at it is to fast-forward a year and think about what you would feel comfortable having paid. If you think that you’ll have pangs of regret and break into cold sweats at having spent so much, then revise your budget down. In the end, it needs to be an amount that you’re comfortable with, rather than going with what you think is expected.

And don’t worry about the oft-heard rule about having to spend two months salary on a ring – that was invented in the ‘80s by diamond retailer De Beers to increase the amount that men spend on rings. Spend an amount that you can afford without sweating about it too much.

I would definitely recommend not putting it on the plastic – weddings are expensive and stressful enough without having to worry about paying back your engagement ring.

B. Stick to your budget

When you’re looking, don’t be tempted to look at more expensive rings. It’s easy to suffer ‘price creep’ as your budget slowly increases as you see more and more rings that you like.

Once you’ve decided on your budget write it down, stick to it, and if you do decide that you need to go higher to get the ring that you are looking at, walk away and think about it rather than making a rash decision. The ring will always be there when you go back.

Right, then, on to the tips.

3. Buy online

Buying online is without a doubt my number one tip for making sure you make the most of your money. Lower overheads and the associated lower prices are an obvious reason to go with an e-tailer, but that’s not the main reason.

Rather than being stuck with a limited inventory, some online jewellers have direct access to wholesaler’s supplies – literally tens of thousands of diamonds.  This unlimited choice and you can find the exact stone that meets your requirements.

And the very best online retailers have tools which allow you to dial in each characteristics of the diamonds. This is the key to getting more for your money – they give you the ability to focus on what matters, while ignoring the factors that don’t matter. I’ve selected some online stores which offer this service – check them out in my Recommended Retailers section.

Read on to find out how to make the most of these tools.

4. Don’t be a clarity case

Clarity is a rating of the number and size of the tiny imperfections that a diamond has – basically another rating of its quality.

Clarity is often something that people, particularly men, get caught up in. They want to ensure that they buy the very best quality diamond that they can. However, my second biggest tip of this blog post is do not worry about clarity.  I’ll explain why after you check out the scale, below:

Acronym Description Traits
FL Flawless Extremely rare, with only a few hundred found each year
IF Internally Flawless Only external flaws are present, which can be removed by further polishing the stone
VVS1 Very Very Slight Inclusions 1 Only an expert can detect flaws with a 10X microscope when examining the stone from the bottom.
VVS2 Very Very Slight Inclusions 2 Only an expert can detect flaws with a 10X microscope when examining the stone from the top.
VVS 1-3 Very Slight Inclusions You can see flaws with a 10X microscope, but it takes a long time (more than about 10 seconds)
SI1 – SI2 Slight Inclusions You can see flaws with a 10X microscope
I1-I3 Inclusions You can see flaws with the naked eye. 

I’m guessing that you probably didn’t read every description there, so I’ll summarise. It’s a 10 point scale and for the first 8 of the points, the imperfections that are being described can only be seen under a microscope. For the first three, you actually need to be a trained jeweller to see the flaws under a 10x microscope.

The 7th and 8th levels on the sale are known as ‘slight inclusions’ and although the flaws can be seen, they still can’t be seen by the naked eye.

So, my huge recommendation here is to go for a SI1, or VS3 if you’re worried about the quality, and reassign the budget to the cut or size of the stone.

This is why I recommend only certain retailers – you can take advantage of their huge choice and dial down the clarity to the level that you’re looking for and see how this affects the price, and then bump up some other attributes without the need to go over budget.

Clarity’s effect on price

A 0.7 carat, Princess cut diamond and just changed the clarity and recorded the price.  The results are below:


Clarity Price (AU$) Price difference (AU$) Price difference ($)
IF 2,816 0 0
VVS1 2,598 -218 -7.7
VVS2 2,468 -348 -12.4
VS1 2,239 -577 -20.5
VS2 2,174 -642 -22.8
SI1 1,924 -892 -31.7
SI2 1,805 -1,011 -35.9
I1 1,718 -1,098 -39.0


Just as a reminder, it’s only at I1 that you can see any imperfections with the naked eye. So, by choosing SI1 or 2, you can save a massive 35%+ on the cost of a ring, without it appearing different to an Internally Flawless ring.

5. Shape your own destiny

There are about 10 shapes of diamonds that are commonly found, with the round being the most common. Round is also usually the most expensive – it takes the most wastage to create a round diamond as the edges need to be trimmed off all the way round to make it into a circle.

Cuts that require less effort and waste to produce can be massively cheaper. But just how much cheaper?

Using one of my recommended retailers, I conducted another experiment to see how shape affects price. I kept the rest of the factors the same and looked at a 0.7 carat G coloured diamond with VS1 clarity. Here’s the results:

Shape Price ($) Difference ($) Difference (%)
Marquise 3,087 0 0
Round 2,913 -174 -5.6
Princess 2,870 -217 -7.0
Asscher 2,609 -478 -15.5
Heart 2,413 -674 -21.8
Radiant 2,392 -695 22.5
Oval 2,359 -728 -23.6
Emerald 2,142 -945 -30.6
Cushion 1,989 -1098 -35.6
Pear 1,739 -1,348 -43.7

Again, there are some huge differences made by changing the shape – this time over 40%!

6. The stick and the carat

Diamond size, or weight, is measured in carats, and there are certain weights that are seen as landmarks – 0.5 carats, 0.75 carats, 1 carat etc.

People will pay more to be just over these round ‘magic’ weights – it’s just the way our mind works. However, , their stone would be indistinguishable from a rock that is just under the magic weight – a 0.97 carat stone will look pretty much exactly the same as a 1.02 carat rock.

Because jewellers know that people are looking for the ladmark weights, prices are often considerably higher just above the weight than just below it.  So, dip down and take advantage other peoples’ ignorance.

7. Colour

Diamond colour is graded from white (the most rare) to yellow (more common).  And, as with everything, the rarer something is, the more expensive it is.

An image to show the diamond colour scale, from white to yellow

Diamonds that sit next to each other are almost indistinguishable from each other – it takes a trained jeweller to be able to spot the difference and even then they can struggle.

Colourless diamonds (D-F) are much more expensive than a near-colourless counterpart (G-J), even though they’re almost impossible to tell the difference between, especially to an untrained eye.

If you aim for stones in the I to J range, you’ll  get a stone that won’t appear yellow but will be much less expensive than a ‘colourless’ rock.

8. Metal

This is an easy one, and you basically have two choices.

If you are looking for a yellow gold ring, go with 14 karat gold rather than 18 karat. It has less actual gold in it which makes it cheaper. This also makes it slightly less shiny, but the flipside is that it is harder and more durable than 18kt gold.

If you’re looking for a ‘white’ coloured ring, go with white gold rather than platinum.

9. Setting

The setting is the way that the stone actually sits on the band, and if you’re looking to save money then a prong setting is the best value. It uses the least precious metal and involves less workmanship than other designs.
4 prong solitaire round brilliant engagement ring

Multiple Stones

One way to increase the impressiveness of a ring is to have several smaller diamonds, rather than trying to maximise the size of just one.

A 1.5 carat diamond will cost more than a ring with three 0.5 carat diamonds, which having the same overall ‘carat weight’’.

And in conclusion..

Buying a ‘cheap’ engagement ring is possible, but hopefully these tips will help you to make the most of the money that you have available and get a fantastic ring that is worthy of your senorita.

Settling for anything less than the real deal may seem like a good idea, but by choosing carefully where you buy from and the characteristics that you focus on, you’ll be able to get the ring that is right for her at a price that is right for you.

Let me know if these tips helped you get a great ring in the comments below!


alastair smith headshot

Let me help you make sure you get the most beautiful ring possible

Making a final decision on a diamond can be intimidating, so I offer completely free advice to make sure you’re 100% confident that you get the highest quality diamond and the most beautiful engagement ring for your budget.   Just answer the questions on the chatbot below and I'll get back to you with an easy-to-understand answer, or a personalized diamond recommendation.   No more uncertainty - you can be sure that the diamond you choose is the best decision.  
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x