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What to spend on an engagement ring? Add to ...

In Sex and the City, when Mr. Big asks Carrie if she'd like a diamond ring to seal their engagement, she responds: "No. No. Just get me a really big closet." That's my kind of thinking. I can think of a handful of other things I'd rather put ring money towards. I wouldn't forgo the symbol entirely, but a simple and beautiful band that doubles as the engagement and wedding ring makes sense to me.

For some though, an engagement ring separate from the band is an important symbol to give and to receive. If you fall into this category and you're waiting for him to put a ring on it, then this just might be your month. December is the most popular time to pop the question, according to a Weddingbells reader survey. But there are a few things to consider before you add some sparkle to your life.

Sparkle spending plan

The ring is the first part of the equation, according to Alison McGill, Weddingbells' editor-in-chief. It starts with the ring and ends with the honeymoon. Couples or grooms need to always keep that in mind. It's all part of the same budget. According to Ms. McGill, the price of an average engagement ring is dependant on the diamond and the 4 Cs: cut, colour, clarity and carat. The sky's the limit for pricing, though $5,000 is on the high end for the average person and will get you a beautiful ring. Whatever number you have in mind, stick to it when you head out in search of the best ring so you're not tempted to by the staff to go bigger and spend more. It's also a good idea to bring someone along to help you stay focused and stick to your spending plan.

Ring alternatives

You might not be a 21st-century princess or a pop star, but you can take a page from the recent engagements of Kate Middleton and Jessica Simpson and opt for non-traditional styles and stones. Yes, the size of their sapphire and ruby stones are out of our league, but you get the idea. A coloured stone or a bride's birthstone can be a less expensive alternative, since most birthstones cost less than a diamond of the similar quality and weight. You could use a family ring for your engagement, search an estate sale, the classifieds, or small, independent jewellers. Or do what one of my girlfriends and her husband-to-be did: opt for a high-quality cubic zirconia. This might mortify some, but you can't tell the difference. Honestly. They put the money they would have spent on a ring toward their actual wedding day and their new home. Wherever your search takes you, it's helpful to start with recommendations from family and friends.

Insure your investment

Once you find your ring, you'll want to insure it immediately. Regardless of price, it's a major investment. If you have homeowners insurance, you'll be able to add your ring to your policy. According to CAA, you can expect to pay close to $2 per $100 of the ring's value per year. To find accredited appraisers in your area, click here.

Talk openly

Maybe your finances aren't yet combined, but your partner's financial picture will affect yours. How much money you spend on an engagement ring could affect your finances and your future plans as a couple. If you're spending thousands of additional dollars for a ring you can't afford and that means it puts you back six months or a year from purchasing a home, do you still want to do it? Whether you're buying or receiving, initiate the dialogue so you're on the same page. It doesn't have to remove the romance. Frame it in a big-picture conversation about your future, your goals and your financial realities so you both feel proud and happy with what Santa delivers this holiday season.

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