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Budgeting for Bling: How to Save for an Engagement Ring

Meet Mac and Hannah.

That’s our Hannah and her Mac. Aren’t they cute?

(There’s a good chance you already know Hannah from her informative, engaging, and, frankly, adorable YNAB videos.)

Mac and Hannah met as camp counselors many moons ago. They went full rom com movie plot at that point—doing a dance routine together in a talent show, falling in love, breaking up, getting back together, breaking up again, and then reuniting in the midst of a pandemic when Mac slid into Hanna’s DMs during lockdown. 2020 was wild, y’all.

And now they’re getting married! But how did they go from DMs to I Do’s?

Honestly, I don’t know—there’s a reason I stick to budgeting instead of romantic advice, so that part may be a Do-It-Yourself project, but I can share the steps Mac took to save up for an engagement ring. The rest is up to you.

Put a Ring on It

Buying an engagement ring is one of those ambiguous expenses. It could cost $10, it could cost ten million dollars, heck, you could even just propose with a cat and call it a day.

(For real. Mac’s friend did that and it worked. Your mileage may vary.)

According to The Knot’s 2020 Jewelry and Engagement Study, the national average cost of an engagement ring is currently $5,500. Does that mean you have to spend $5,500? Absolutely not.

(Author’s note: Some humane societies offer buy one, get one free specials on kittens, which is worth remembering if you go with the cat proposal idea. You could give your partner a bouquet of kittens!)

The cost of your engagement ring purchase depends on your budget, your priorities, your preferences, and your betrothed-to-be. It’s good to have a general goal in mind when you start budgeting, though.

If you really want to plan ahead, start saving when you’re single or in a new relationship. Setting aside $20 or $30 a month is far easier to incorporate into your budget and, let’s be honest, you’ll never regret saving money.

Anyway, here are the steps Mac took to move from asking “Can I afford a ring?” to “Will you marry me?” in five short months.

How to Save for an Engagement Ring

Step One: Get a Month Ahead in Your Budget

When you’re in a relationship with a YNAB evangelist, this point is probably emphasized fairly frequently. But it’s a good one! Mac’s first step was to get one month ahead with budgeting so that he could allocate all additional income towards his savings target for a ring. Setting enough money aside for next month’s bills and expenses gave him the peace of mind of knowing the essentials were covered so that he could get serious about saving.

As an added bonus, this step not only helped him get financially grounded, but also prepared him to share his life—financial and otherwise—with someone else. Commitment, accountability, and priorities are important, both in a budget and in a marriage.  

Step Two: Set a Target Savings Balance

Every journey needs a destination. Decide what you’re willing to spend and when you plan to propose in order to get clear about how much you need to set aside each month to make it happen.

Set a savings target to help you meet your goal.

It’s also helpful to build in a back-up plan for detours along the way. For instance, Mac decided to propose earlier than he had originally planned and had to Roll with the Punches to make it all work.

(Spoiler alert: He made it work.)

Step Three: Get Strict About Budgeting

Sometimes love requires sacrifice. Do you want to stop at Starbucks every day on your way to work or do you want to propose a lifetime of love and commitment to your beloved? If you don’t know the answer to that question, just settle for Starbucks for now.

But if you truly want to save money for an engagement ring, get ruthless with your budget. Slash, or eliminate, extraneous expense categories like entertainment or dining out. It’s a good time to get creative with frugal date ideas to keep the love alive while you stash cash away for a big day worth remembering.

Step Four: Get Aggressive with Savings

More money in and less money out is the recipe for a savings success story. Mac was serious about his savings goal and temporarily moved back in with his parents to save on expenses.

That’s not an option for everyone, but think outside of your comfort zone when it comes to increasing your income. Grocery delivery? Uber driver? Etsy store? Pet sitting? Find a roommate? Sell a skill or services?

A small side hustle can go a long way toward meeting your goals.

Step Five: Roll with the Punches

What if you decide to propose early? What if your fiance-to-be falls in love with a ring that’s a little over budget? Both happened to Mac. So he headed back to the drawing board for another look at his budget and options.

Luckily, he had saved enough that he was able to opt for a payment plan to finance the rest, knowing that at his current rate of saving, he could cover the remaining balance before interest was incurred.

Getting engaged is a big deal and the ring will be worn, and cherished, for a lifetime. Be prepared to Roll with the Punches to ensure that this matrimonial milestone is as special as you both deserve for it to be.

Step Six: Propose. Just Do It.

Now, here’s the scary part: actually proposing. You’re probably going to feel nervous—that’s normal! Remember that fear and excitement share some of the same qualities. Is it anxiety that you’re feeling or anticipation? It’s okay if it’s a little bit of both. Just ask. You can do it!

It’s a memory in the making, and you’ve taken quite the journey to get to this point. Congratulations to you and to yours, and to Mac and Hannah. We all love a happily ever after.

Ready to commit to a budget? Try YNAB for free for 34 days.

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Budgeting for Bling: How to Save for an Engagement Ring