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Are engagement rings a scam?

by | 30 April 2018 | Couple

According to ‘Adam Ruins Everything‘, engagement rings are a scam. Is he right? And does his brutal take-down of the engagement ring trade cover the full story?

Boo to engagement rings?

Let’s be honest: we all kind of know engagement rings are a rip-off, right?

The average salary in the UK is around £27,500. When you apply the ‘two-month salary’ rule of thumb (as most people do), the average Brit is dropping over four grand on these things.

And what do they do? They have no functional value. It’s not like a car or a smartphone where you can reel off all the cool features and practical benefits. Rings just sit there and look pretty.

And as for their material value? Well, there are entire dissertations written on the subject, but regardless of the nuances, it’s safe to say the diamond industry isn’t exactly ‘consumer-first’. In short, if the zombie apocalypse kicks off tomorrow, trading in your diamond ring won’t get you many food rations. There’s a reason they call it a rock.

So in terms of functional and material value, yeah, that four-grand ring is a rip-off.

But that’s not why we buy them, is it?

Money doesn’t buy love. But it does kind of measure it

Money is something everyone cares about. Anyone who says they don’t care about money would soon change their mind if a day’s food cost £10 and he only had £9.

So much of our quality of life is tied to money it becomes a pretty good barometer of how much you care about something. A person who loves cars will spend more on his ride than the person who just wants one to get him to work intact every day.

It’s the same with relationships. Everything’s relative to income, which is why the devilishly genius ‘two months’ rule is so universal. But ultimately, if you’re not as fond of someone, it’ll hurt you more to spend money on them.

So it becomes a bit of an emotional litmus test. ‘You must care this much to enter the marriage ride’. The fact that a ring has such questionable real value just makes this test purer. If you can’t stomach dropping two months of moolah on something that’s ultimately a rip-off but will show how much you care for someone, maybe you don’t care enough for the marriage to succeed.

The buyer-ring relationship

In Britain, where we’re notoriously reluctant to talk about money or wealth, we shy away from telling a person how much a gift cost us.

This happens with engagement rings too – a lot of men won’t tell their fiancées how much they spent on the ring. The fact that they spend so much on a ring when the recipient doesn’t even know its value might sound like evidence of how brainwashed we are by the ‘scam’. But we think otherwise.

If a man chooses to buy a fake, knock-off or just very cheap ring (relative to income), and pass it off as an expensive one to his partner, that’s a scam in itself, isn’t it? It’s a deception, at the very least. And that directly contradicts the sentiment the ring is meant to represent. Not a great starting point for a marriage.

Here’s the thing: when we go shopping for an engagement ring, we’re also proposing marriage to ourselves, in a way. We can still back out – heaven knows our sense of value for money will plead with us to back out. But we don’t. This act of buying an outrageously priced ring is in direct conflict with our (quintessentially male) fears of commitment and getting ripped off.

So if our desire to make the ring’s recipient happy overrides these fundamental instincts, that’s a very good starting point for a marriage.

The back-to-basics test

We spend a lot of time looking at the merits of different traditions and whether our culture should change them or get rid of them. (The topic of engagement rings has come up before, in fact.)

And we find it usually helps to run the back-to-basics test: If the tradition had never existed, and you randomly became the first to do it, would it seem like a good idea?

So in this case: in a parallel universe, everything is identical to this one, but the engagement ring was never a thing. The proposer says ‘will you marry me?’, the proposee says yes, and that’s it – no jewellery involved.

You then become the first person to give someone an engagement ring. Good idea?

In this case, we say yes. Your logic is: I want this person to feel special, so I’m giving her (or him) a beautiful, expensive piece of jewellery to wear as a constant reminder of my commitment.

And if the price of the ring is somewhat inflated, well then it’s as we said before – you’ll need to be okay with the dent in your bank balance if you really want the gesture to work.

Advocating for the devil?

Yeah, by defending the engagement ring industry, we’re probably playing totally into the price gouging. But just because someone’s making a fortune from it doesn’t mean we’re not getting our money’s worth.

It’s a one-time (hopefully) expenditure, and it’s an important part of (again, hopefully) one of the most special moments of your life. So we’re happy to keep rolling with the engagement ring tradition.

I bought an engagement ring a couple of years ago, and yes, it was one of the most expensive things I’ve ever purchased in my life. But I certainly don’t feel scammed. There’s very little in the Adam Ruins Everything video I didn’t know, so I went into that jewellers totally aware of how it works.

So if you know exactly how the engagement ring industry works, and you don’t regret buying into it, you can’t really claim you’ve been scammed.

What do you think? Do you agree with Adam? Are engagement rings a total con? Let us know in the comments.

About the author

Matt Phil Carver

Matt’s a copywriter and blogger from West Sussex, England. He spends his days helping people simplify their writing and give their words more punch and personality. At weddings, Matt’s always quick to get up and dance, even when the vicar’s telling him to wait for the reception.


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Couple Are engagement rings a scam?