Do People Still Follow the 3 Months' Salary Rule for Engagement Rings?

Here's how this infamous concept holds up today.
sarah hanlon entertainment and celebrity editor the knot
Sarah Hanlon
sarah hanlon entertainment and celebrity editor the knot
Sarah Hanlon
Entertainment & Celebrity Editor
  • Sarah is the Entertainment & Celebrity Editor for The Knot, with special focuses on pop culture and celebrity wedding news.
  • Before joining The Knot Worldwide, Sarah was a contributing writer for Bravo at NBC Universal.
  • Sarah has a degree in journalism and resides in New York City.
Updated Dec 10, 2021
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It's no secret that weddings are synonymous with plenty of classic traditions that have been around for centuries. While some are still very common today, like wearing white or making a registry, others are being modernized to make the wedding day more personalized—like ignoring the folklore that says it's bad luck to see your spouse before the ceremony, or serving sweets other than cake. One of the most infamous wedding etiquette rules, though, revolves around the engagement ring. It's known as the "three months' salary" rule, and it implies that a buyer should put three months of their salary toward a sparkler for their future spouse.

For context, The Knot 2021 Jewelry and Engagement study found that the average cost of an engagement ring in the US is $6,000. Keep in mind that this is the national average, so the price of your ring can vary based on where you buy it, along with additional factors like the center stone shape and carat weight, the metal, and the setting.

So, does the age-old "three months' salary for an engagement ring" rule still hold up today? How many months' salary should you actually dedicate toward an engagement ring? We tapped industry experts to share whether or not it's something to consider when building your engagement ring budget.

What is the "Three Months' Salary" Rule for an Engagement Ring?

Before we dive into the details, it's helpful to know where the three months' salary rule originated. This etiquette tip can be traced back to the 1930s, during The Great Depression. The diamond industry was struggling to sell products due to the financial strain US citizens faced. As the leading diamond retailer at the time, De Beers launched a marketing campaign that aimed to increase the sale of diamond engagement rings.

It's important to note that, up until this point, diamond rings were not the norm for engagement jewelry. In order to change this narrative (and improve their business profit), De Beers' campaign claimed that diamond engagement rings were a true symbol of love, and that buyers should commit one month of their salary to the purchase. According to the American Gem Society, this ad campaign increased diamond sales by 50%. By the end of the 20th century, about 80% of engagement rings included diamonds. This marketing campaign lasted through the years, and by the 1980s the number was upped two months, which eventually turned into three months' worth of your salary.

Through their campaign, which launched the iconic tagline "A Diamond Is Forever," De Beers successfully linked engagement rings to diamonds, and their pricing guideline was accepted as the appropriate amount of money to spend on a gemstone. But does this still ring true today?

How Many Months' Salary Should You Use for an Engagement Ring?

If you're not sure how much money to spend on your significant other's dream ring, the three month's salary rule can certainly be used as a general guideline—but it does not have to be taken quite as literally as it was in years past. "I've found that most of our clients do not follow the three months' salary 'rule'," says jeweler Katherine Kane, founder of luxury jewlery brand K Kane. "Typically, our customers come to us with an idea as to what style and stone shape they are looking for and it's our job to educate them on how to get the best product within their budget."

An engagement ring is a piece that you (or your partner) will wear every day for the rest of your life, so it's important to invest in a high-quality design—but it's just as necessary to spend what you can realistically afford. "The price of an engagement ring is personal, and I advise to spend what's most comfortable without getting into a debt situation," advises New York-based jeweler Mimi So.

If spending thousands on an expensive ring is not realistic for your budget or your lifestyle, it's perfectly okay to lower your price point regardless of what your gross salary is. "There is no point in spending beyond your comfort level because it would be starting on the wrong foot by adding stress to purchase above your financial ability," So adds. "You can have a beautiful stone regardless of the size. Remember that the ring is a symbol of your union."

We know the average spend on an engagement ring is $6,000, but this is simply to be used as a starting point for crafting your budget. If you're feeling stuck, it can be beneficial to make an appointment with a jeweler to find a style that aligns with your financial situation. "Setting a budget where you feel comfortable is an important first step because from there we can establish priorities that allow us to hunt for the perfect diamonds," Kane explains.

So, how many months' salary should you use for an engagement ring? Here's the bottom line: It's completely possible to find the perfect ring within your budget, regardless of what your salary is. The real "rule" you should follow is to shop within a price range that's realistic for you. "You are going to look at the engagement ring every day for the rest of your life," Kane adds. "It should be something that will continuously spark joy, rather than make you worry about finances. Plus, you can always get what is best for you now and upgrade at a later date when the time comes."

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