Dear Penny: We’re Pre-Engaged. Our Incomes Differ. How Can We Fairly Finance a Ring?

A man proposes to his girlfriend near water.
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Dear Penny,

I'm a woman in my early 30s, recently moved in with my boyfriend of about the same age. We have “gender-swapped” careers: He's in teaching and I (a woman) am in software, and I make about four times as much as he does. We split expenses, with me covering somewhere around 65% of shared things, and then I'll pay for stuff that's outside of his typical lifestyle. He's also rebuilding savings at the moment due to paying for his education degree a few years ago and a recent gap between jobs.

We're talking about getting engaged, and if we do, I want a ring. I did some looking around, and I think something around $5,000 would be nice. A purchase like this for me is not a huge deal but for him would probably wipe out his savings. We live in a community property state, so in some ways it will come out in the wash once we're married, but I have no idea what would be fair in terms of how we finance the ring.

Should we wait for him to have enough savings to afford it? Go 50/50? Ask him for what he can afford and then top it up with my money to get the ring I'd like best? In some ways, I feel guilty for wanting this — but a part of me loves the romance of a proposal (from him) and a ring, even though I'm clearly not bent on traditional roles. I have no friends in similar situations and no idea who to ask.


— Pre-engaged

Dear Pre-engaged,

Get the ring you want — it’s going on your finger!

It sounds like you and your boyfriend have a balance that works for the two of you, with you paying the larger share because you have a larger income. There’s no reason for you to approach your engagement/wedding ring any differently. Don’t feel guilty for wanting something, and don’t let money be the thing that delays your engagement to a man you want to marry.

Because you’re already comfortable with equitable financial responsibilities in other areas, your hesitation might be about more than money. I encourage you to consider for yourself, and then have a conversation with your boyfriend, about what a proposal and engagement ring mean for each of you.

Is it important to you that the ring feel like a gift from him? Does contributing the bulk of the financing dilute that feeling for you?

What does the engagement ring mean to him? Does its meaning change if you pay for it?

Is there a way for him to deliver the romance and delight you’re after without the cost? Maybe he can choose a lower-cost alternative proposal gift that’ll carry its own meaning for the two of you, and you can separately purchase a ring you’ll be happy to wear for the rest of your life.

Maybe you’ll discover it’s not about the ring but about the experience you’ll share when he decides to propose. You could buy your dream ring guilt-free, and let him hold onto it and surprise you with the romance of finding just the right moment to bring it out.

This is less about the details of funding the ring and much more about what matters to you surrounding that symbol. It can be tough to square a meaningful tradition with the progress you otherwise embrace, but this is an opportunity for the two of you to figure out how you’ll hold the dissonance of your gender roles throughout your life together.

Dana Miranda is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance®, author, speaker and personal finance journalist. She writes Healthy Rich, a newsletter about how capitalism impacts the ways we think, teach and talk about money.