Engagement rings as downpayment?

I just started reading “All the Money in the World: What the Happiest People Know about Getting and Spending” by Laura Vanderkam. I am intrigued by quite a few ideas I have read so far, so I have a feeling I might end up writing about this book over the next few days. For those of you that may not know me, I am avidly interested in personal finance. I believe that as we grow up we do not learn about personal finance unless our family teaches us, or we specifically take classes in college, or some other random way. Most of us wind up learning about it by default, and even at that we do not feel completely confident about what we really know regarding finance.

The premise of this book is that even with all the money in the world most of us would still not be happy. The author explains how we can use money as a tool to creatively set ourselves up to do the things we want to do in life. Because I am passionate about money issues and women issues I found the following ideas interesting about engagement rings. The average couple spends $5000 on an engagement ring. My husband and I quasi eloped. We told folks before we left to get married, had a send off party, but went to sun and sand just the two of us, with the officiant, photographer, and videographer as our witnesses. Based on how we got married, I have an interest and intrigue for big and small weddings and how folks decide to get married. With that I have always been fascinated by the engagement process. We did not have a formal engagement, or an engagement ring, our experience was all very non traditional. In her book, Laura talks about how men in the 1930’s would propose to women and then have a string of fiancees. To protect women multiple states added laws that allowed women to sue for breach of promise, meaning that men had expensive consequences when proposing to multiple women. I am shocked (and a bit in awe) that women had very few rights at the time, and yet they could sue a man for breach of promise. This is the background Laura shares:

“Then in 1935, a legislator from Indiana sponsored a bill abolishing broken engagement as a reason to sue for damages. Other jurisdictions followed, which soon raised a question: if a woman couldn’t sue, what could she do to protect herself? One solution would be to demand a large transfer of capital as part of an engagement. That would make any prospective grooms think twice about seducing a woman under false pretenses. The most efficient way to do this would be for the man to give his beloved money. Money can be used for anything, and so this method would at least let the woman do something useful with it, like go to school or start a business. But genteel folks have always found cash a bit tacky in proper situations, so that didn’t catch on. Fortuitously, at the same time brides were looking for something expensive yet respectable to secure their honor, the diamond industry faced a glut of the precious stones and needed some way to move them. Seeing an opportunity, the DeBeers company staged one of the first national marketing campaigns to boost diamond sales. Its advertising agency got Hollywood stars to wear conspicuous rings, and movies soon featured engagement scenes involving diamonds. Within just three decades the diamond engagement ring was welded into the culture, almost universally accepted…” page 18-19

So our current day engagement ring came about from women finding an expensive way to secure their honor. Does that mean if the man breaks off an engagement then the woman keeps the ring, but if a woman breaks an engagement she has to return the ring to the man? It made me start to think: is the cost and purchase of an engagement ring still necessary? Is it the most fiscally responsible way for a groom (or a couple) to spend their money before starting their life together?

Food for thought.

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