The Financial Confessions: “I Sold My Engagement Ring To Pay My Student Loans”

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For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted the “fairy tale” when it comes to weddings. I know that this probably puts me in a minority in the TFD community, and I can definitely understand on an intellectual/financial/feminist level why this approach to getting married isn’t a great one, but it’s what I wanted. I am the youngest of many cousins, and that meant a lot of my life was spent at big weddings, where everything felt magical and special, and everyone was gathered in one place. Being mostly Southern as an extended family, the traditions of the big white dress and the tent on the lawn and the fancy dinners were something I saw in pretty much every family wedding, and from the ages of six to about 23, I went to a total of 11 of them for cousins alone.

So basically, this meant that it was really important to me, when my “big moment” came, to have something similar. Weddings to me really did feel like that Disney moment, and the engagement was definitely part of it, right down to the ring. But when the time came that I was actually in a serious relationship with my now-fiancé for four years, and we were living together, in our late 20s, and both “the marrying type,” I started to call into question a lot of what I thought an engagement, and a wedding, “had” to be.

The truth is, I had over $80,000 of student loan debt from my undergraduate and graduate degrees. I should say that I don’t for a minute regret my schooling or my debt: I got a partial scholarship for a five-year, straight-through Bachelor’s and Master’s program from an Ivy League school that allowed me to land a great job right out of school in a field I am extremely passionate about. But my salary, even four years into my career, is still just under the $50,000 mark, and I live in a relatively-expensive city. So that debt is real.

My fiancé, however, has never had debt. He got a good engineering degree from a cheap state school, and between working through school, living at home, and having his parents’ help, he didn’t have to take out any loans to pay for his degree. He now has a very good government contracting job, and earns a respectable salary. This made his outlook on money always profoundly different than mine. My $800/month loan repayment is my responsibility, and I have taken on several side jobs before ever asking anyone for help (especially him). I knew that eventually we would combine finances, but even when we were living together, we still kept things very separate, particularly because of my debt. He always offered to help more than he did, but I have a very Catholic sort of guilt about that money — it’s my duty to repay, alone.

This meant, though, that my big fairy tale dreams about what a wedding would be, and an engagement, had seriously changed. I now wanted something simple and very cheap, and wanted people to give any gifts they would consider giving in the form of cash for student loan repayment, so that we could have a chance of buying a home in the near-ish future. I didn’t need some knife set from Anthropologie, I needed financial freedom, and so did my future husband. I had this discussion with my then-boyfriend many times, and we seemed very much in agreement, especially because he’d never had any dreams about a big wedding to begin with.

But when he proposed to me early this year on a surprise trip to a remote island in the Caribbean, he did it with what was an (objectively stunning) diamond ring. It was more beautiful than anything I could have imagined, and before I could even think about how much it cost, I was sucked into the moment and of course exclaimed “YES!” on top of crying a lot. We spent the rest of the week’s trip in a kind of haze, and the thought of the cost of the ring didn’t even cross my mind.

But by the time we were back in the city and fully into wedding-planning mode, it dawned on me: That ring looked like it was f’ing expensive. And his generally-expensive taste when it comes to clothes/accessories/etc (his rule is “I buy things to last, so I spend a lot”) convinced me that he probably didn’t skimp on the ring. So I sat him down and asked what he spent:

Twelve thousand dollars.

This is a ridiculous number by any standard, I know, but given the debt we had going into our life together, it was especially ludicrous. I tried to stay calm as I asked why and how he would spend that kind of money without asking me, when it could do so much to knock out a huge chunk of my monthly debt. He was really hurt at first, but eventually explained his rationale: it was something I was going to wear every day, and he wanted it to be special. He’d custom-designed it with an artisan jeweler he’d found online and actually drove six hours to New York City behind my back to work with the jeweler in person. I was touched, of course, but I couldn’t let that money sit on my finger. I needed to do something with it.

But I’d already done the famous “ring pic” on social media and shown everyone how wonderful it was, especially my huge Southern family that wanted to see and hear every detail about my fairy tale moment. So what was a girl to do? The truth is that we found a costume jeweler on Etsy who recreated my ring exactly using non-precious stones, and we sold the original for a bit under the purchase price. The money he used for the ring went to wipe out the highest-interest portion of my loans, and I now treasure my replica ring (which cost me under $1,000, and is the prettiest thing I’ve ever owned), because I know it’s something he designed from the heart, and more importantly, something we chose to do so that our life could be more free and easy from day one as a married couple. I respect the emotion it took him to agree to sell that original ring, and it made me love him more than ever.

I don’t tell family and friends about this, obviously, and they think it’s the same ring, because I don’t feel like dealing with the questions and judgments. I am confident in my choice, and don’t regret it for a second. If you are ever hesitating on making a similar financial compromise when it comes to weddings/jewelry/dresses/etc, I definitely recommend choosing the financially-savvy option. My wedding is still going to be a fairy tale, and my ring is still a dream. I’m just not putting my financial health in jeopardy to have those things, and that makes them even sweeter to me.

Image via Pexels

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  • KP

    I don’t get it. You wanted your fiancé to propose to you with a cheaper ring and a pile of cash to pay down your debt? I thought your Catholic guilt meant that you wanted to pay off your debt yourself? I find this really rude. And please don’t ask your guests for money. If you prefer cash just don’t register, but asking for money is (again) rude

    • Not wanting your boyfriend to pay your student debt is different from pooling resources with your husband to be. The relationship has changed.

      • KP

        Well, yes, but also no. How, when and to what degree couples choose to pool assets is variable. I don’t think it should be considered a given that if the author’s fiancé is willing to spend 12K on a ring that means he’s willing to give her an equivalent amount for debt reduction. Until funds hit a joint account I think it’s presumptuous.

        • What you find presumptuous has worked out fairly well for this couple.

    • Anni

      I think you can ask for money if you are part of a culture that gets money at weddings. I think you run the risk of offending older people at your wedding if you straight up ask for cash (vs. a fund of some kind, e.g setting up something for future children/honeymoon/house which I notice a lot of people from a variety of backgrounds doing). I’m ethnically Chinese and I literally get money at every celebration because culturally, I was brought up with the idea that money was the present, vs. getting actual presents and it would shock no one if I continued that tradition on in a wedding but I know for people who aren’t used to it, it can be a bit of a unpleasant shock.

    • Violaine

      I think you are the one being really rude and insulting here. It’s called Financial Confessions for a reason.

    • Rosie

      It’s perfectly acceptable and usually the done thing nowadays in the UK to ask for cash towards your honeymoon or what not, especially because you’ve usually been living together for a period of time and don’t actually need anything you would usually register for. You usually say ” we don’t wish for your presence at our wedding, but if you would like to give us something, a donation towards our XXX (usually honeymoon) would be greatfully recevived”. Your message is scathing!

      • Violaine

        We don’t wish for your presence? Or present? Haha!
        Yes, in the UK it’s what all my friends do.

        • Rosie

          Totally meant to say “we only wish for your presence at our wedding”!!

    • Jogie

      FYI asking for cash as a wedding gift is actually not rude and is very common in many cultures

  • It works for you both so that’s good. I’m not a fan of relationships (Especially marriages) where each party is living a different financial reality. One person paying $800 a month on a 50k salary while the other drops 12k for a ring kinda sounds that way so I’m happy you came to a compromise. I personally would not ask my guests for money.

    • Irozomaverick

      This a million times!

  • alyjarrett

    This is why it is oh-so-important to discuss finances, *including* an engagement ring budget, before getting engaged. Personally, I think that the 3-month salary rule is ridiculous, but you should relay your opinions to your partner to ensure that s/he doesn’t over (or under) deliver financially.

    • GBee

      I completely agree. I’ve explained to my boyfriend all of the tricks they use to get you to spend more money, for fear of him going overboard (which he usually doesn’t, but I can see him feeling different about something that will represent our marriage/may eventually be an heirloom).

    • Mj D’Arco

      could’t agree more, and imo there is nothing less elegant than carrying a huge chunky ring on your finger.. plus it’s so cliche and non special..

      • Violaine

        The fiance designed the ring himself and it’s “non special”?

    • E$

      Agreed. As awkward as it was to discuss with my boyfriend before we got engaged what expectations were (SO awkward, coming from a family where we do not talk about money), I’m so glad he initiated that. I still got the surprise of him picking out a very ‘me’ ring and, while it is definitely my nicest piece of jewelry, it is not something I lose sleep over money-wise.

    • Carley

      Preach.

  • Mj D’Arco

    i would not ask people for money, also people will give you money and presents for your wedding, as in for you, and your husband to start a new house, not for own personal student loans

    • Dave Ramsey

      A house would not be a blessing for me if I had that amount of consumer debt. I would prefer to be debt free prior to purchasing a home. It’s completely obtainable.

      Rent inexpensively as possible while paying off debt. Save for an emergency fund of at least 3-6 months of expenses. Save for a down payment of at least 10%-THEN purchase a home. This is just me though.

      And when you’re married, it’s not his or hers-it’s OURS. The good, the bad, the ugly and especially the debt.

  • There’s a lot going on in this piece, it’s hard to dissect it all. I’m glad you guys were able to figure out a solution that worked out. I imagine it was extremely hard for your fiance to sell that ring back. Ideally you guys could’ve avoided that whole mishap with better communication. It seems like he completely misread your expectations and what you wanted.

    I’ve always been more of a saver, and am good about avoiding the “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality, but when it came to buying an engagement ring it was definitely a “splurge.” It’s hard not to get caught up in all of it. I wanted my fiancee to have a ring that we were both proud of. I was able to find a good balance of finding a special ring that didn’t get our marriage started off in the hole financially. The key though is that we started communicating about money well before we got engaged. We each knew each other’s student loan situation and how much income we were bringing in. We had discussed our long-term goals, expectations, and what we placed importance in. We aren’t perfect, but we made decisions together and kept an open dialogue throughout.

    I think the decision of getting a $1K specially designed ring is perfect, however that’s what should’ve happened from the beginning. I think it’s also important to get rid of the need to pay off your debt all by yourself. Marriage is all about teamwork. When I married my wife, I fully considered her student loan to be “our debt” not “her debt.”

    Lastly, I do think asking for cash is pretty taboo. Maybe asking for contributions to a “honeymoon fund” or not registering for anything specific, but saying you shop often at Target and Amazon (which you could use for home supplies or even grocery money) would be less awkward. Then this frees up additional money in your monthly budget that you could put towards your loans. Just an idea, but I guess it really depends on you and your guests.

  • Anon

    I mostly find this sad. It would have been better if they’d been on the same page, for sure, but something about imagining him designing it for her and driving six hours for a secret consultation, then having to sell it is really heartbreaking. He was trying so hard to make her happy! Honestly, I probably would have economized on other stuff and kept it. I can’t say I worry too much about wounds to the male ego, but feelings run really deep around those symbols and that’s a pretty intense rejection. Even my fiancé, who is almost implausibly mellow about gender roles, was like, “Christ, that’s a sad story.”

  • Violaine

    I see a lot of people saying it’s rude to ask for money but maybe it depends on the culture or family. I’ve been to lots of weddings this year and they all asked for money. I don’t think it’s rude – if anything, it’s rather convenient and it means I give what I want instead of being stuck buying something more expensive than I want because that’s the only thing left on the wedding list.

    I think it’s a bit sad to sell the engagement ring but at the same time, I think it’s the best decision the author could have made. Ideally it’d have been great to be able to afford to keep it but paying off student debt is so important.

    And I don’t think it’s a selfish decision. Sure, he spent a lot of time and effort and money for that ring; but basically, once they’re married, her debt becomes his as well (unless they have a prenup that says otherwise and splits what they own – that includes debt…) and he is liable if she does not pay. He’s better off letting her pay for it with the ring before they get married, so this way once they are married, he doesn’t take her debt with her and they can focus on their finance to achieve other goals, whatever the goals – buy a house, start a family, etc.

  • Shelby

    Best wishes to you both! While it’s a decision I am not sure I would have made myself, I am glad that you are both content in your choice without compromising your relationship or values. The costume ring idea is honestly kind of brilliant! Nobody will know the difference except you and your insurance policy 🙂 Thank you for sharing your story.

  • Nancy Drew

    Have a simple ceremony and a plain gold band.

    • Carley

      Perfect!

  • Carley

    I love this confession, I think it is beautiful. Don’t doubt for a second what you did.

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