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Some Couples Invest in Their Future in Ways Other Than a Diamond Ring

01/18/2017 12:25pm ET | Updated January 19, 2018
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What does an engagement ring look like? For many people, my wife included, the answer is a diamond ring. While that's a concept that didn't become widely accepted until the diamond industry's marketing campaigns in the mid-1900s, it's one that holds strong today. However, some couples are going in an alternative direction. The intention isn't to be cheap, but rather to use the savings to make a different kind of meaningful investment in their future together.

When and how a proposal happens can be a surprise, but hopefully the answer won't be. That is likely doubly true if the question is popped without a diamond engagement ring, or perhaps without a ring at all. As always in a relationship, communication is key. While some people may be excited by the idea, it could be a deal breaker for others.

What will a meaningful investment look like to the both of you? A friend of mine recently shared with me the story of how he proposed to his now wife, and the decision to forgo an engagement ring altogether.

They were renting an apartment at the time and had discussed how they'd like to buy a home of their own once they got married. When the discussion turned to engagement rings, she said she'd rather put the money towards a down payment because starting a home together was more meaningful to her than a ring. He didn't ask right then, but when the time was right he did take a knee, ringless, and ask her to marry him -- clearly she said yes. Today they live in the home the savings helped buy, wear only wedding bands and he says neither of them regrets the decision.

A down payment might not make sense for you, but there are other ways to invest in your future together. For some couples, paying down debts or saving for their wedding so that they don't go into debt might be a better fit. Many millennials are drawn to spending money on experiences rather than possessions. Whether you picture yourselves lounging on a beach during your honeymoon or dream about taking an around-the-world trip together, a travel fund could be a great first step.

Consider your options if you want to buy a ring. Understandably, the idea of proposing without an engagement ring isn't for everyone. But there is a middle ground you could explore. A less expensive engagement ring with the savings going towards your shared goal.

Here are few options you could discuss with your significant other:

Alternative stones. There are a variety of alternative precious and semi-precious stones you could pick for the ring, including sapphires, rubies, topaz or amethysts. Matching a stone's color to the person's eyes or choosing their birthstone could imbue the ring with a personal touch. However, be careful about picking a "soft" gem that could be easily scratched if it's worn daily.

Diamond look-alikes. You could choose a synthetic diamond or a stone that looks similar to a diamond but costs much less, such as a cubic zirconia. Some of the man-made and alternative options can look more brilliant than genuine diamonds, and you don't need to worry about whether or not the stone is conflict-free

A solid band. While it won't have the same flash as a ring with a large gemstone, choosing a smaller diamond or solid metal band with a symbolic meaning could be just as meaningful to your partner.

Family heirlooms can also make for memorable engagement rings and often there isn't a price tag attached (although a lengthy discussion might be in order). A vintage ring could appeal to some people's style, or the center stone could be reset in a modern band. In either case, there's something special about wearing a gemstone that's been in one of your families for generations.

Decide on your priorities as a couple and act accordingly.
According to The Knot's 2015 Real Weddings Study, an average of $5,871 was spent on engagement rings. For some, there's no better way to spend money. After all, it's a ring that's going to be worn for decades. But you can discuss engagement ring expectations before you ask someone to marry you.

Even if your partner always imagined a diamond ring, you'll want to know the style and color of the band that they find appealing. If a diamond isn't particularly important, discuss what alternatives might make more sense. An alternative ring or gemstone, or no ring at all, can be an equally timeless and beautiful gesture of love when you both know the money is going to an important step in your future together.

Nathaniel Sillin directs Visa's financial education programs. To follow Practical Money Skills on Twitter: www.twitter.com/PracticalMoney

This article is intended to provide general information and should not be considered legal, tax or financial advice. It's always a good idea to consult a legal, tax or financial advisor for specific information on how certain laws apply to you and about your individual financial situation.