Best Bling for Your Buck: The perfect engagement ring doesn't have to break the bank. Here's how to shop smart

Adhering to the rules of the ever-changing economy – i.e., keeping your wallet closed at all times! – can be a damper when you’ve got marriage on your mind.

A wedding is a pricey endeavor that, of course, commences with a pricey purchase: an engagement ring.

Every girl has her own idea of the perfect engagement ring, but relying on her guy to select it can be a nerve-wracking prospect.

“I can guarantee she’ll be dropping hints if you listen closely,” says Amanda Gizzi, director of communications at the Jewelry Information Center, the online consultation arm of Jewelers of America.

Things get complicated when finances couple with her taste. Gizzi offers some tips on narrowing down a ring choice without going overboard on spending.

Determine Your Budget

According to TheKnot.com’s 2010 Real Weddings Survey, the average cost of an engagement ring was just shy of $5,400. But that’s just the average from a sample – not a spending goal.

“How much to spend on an engagement ring is a personal matter,” says Gizzi. “Establishing your budget will help your jeweler guide you through the process with realistic expectations.”

Think of this budget as just another way of narrowing the search. It’s easy to be overwhelmed no matter what, but a budget can help assess what rings to start with and what ones to avoid.

Consider Her Style

Here is where your detective skills come into play. Be aware of her personal taste. Does she have a modern sensibility, or is she more traditional? What kind of jewelry does she already own?

“And make sure to pay attention to how she responds to other women’s rings,” says Gizzi.

Understand the 4 C’s

The Four C’s of the diamond – cut, color, clarity and carat weight. Being mindful of the quality of the ring is important – no girl wants a chintzy piece of bling, especially since this is the one piece of jewelry she’s wear for the rest of her life. Instead of breaking the bank by trying to boost all four aspects, determine which C is most important to your bride and focus on getting the most bang for your buck there.

Gizzi’s suggestion: Focus on the cut and slightly more than the other C’s.

“The cut of the stone is what releases the fire and brilliance of the diamond,” she says.

Keep an Open Mind

Try something unique. Daring rings and bold colors can add personality to a ring without costing and arm and a leg.

“Color gemstones make great alternatives,” says Gizzi, noting newlywed Duchess of Cambridge Catherine Middleton’s sapphire engagement stone. She also suggests trying a black diamond, if it fits your bride’s style, which is a more affordable shade than the traditional white.

Another cost-cutting trick is choosing a cluster ring, or a ring with more than one diamond at its center. “Because smaller diamonds are less rare than larger diamonds, they tend to be more affordable,” says Gizzi.

Or try the halo style, when a ring of small, prong-set diamonds surrounds the center stone, which illusion of a big diamond, but for less money.

Copyright © CTW Features