Dear ESB: Your thoughts on a “starter” engagement ring, pls.

Categories   Wedding Advice

It’s been way too long since we’ve had East Side Bride over here to share some of her insightful views on wedding etiquette with us. This one is so pertinent, don’t you think?

Dear ESB engagement ring dilemma | East Side Bride on 100 Layer Cake

Dear ESB,

My husband’s best friend just sent me this email asking for advice:


I have talked to J a couple of times about the possibility/likelihood that I will propose to A this summer/fall and while I’m trying to come up with the right time and situation I’m also trying to figure out the whole ring thing.

J had suggested, for a couple of reasons, that I get her a temporary ring (is that what you call it?) For one, money is very tight right now and we have a pending trip to Istanbul this fall that may or may not get canceled depending on what A’s work decides. If we go, fun but also even worse money situation. Also, I’ve failed in picking out jewelry for her in the past and she even said at some point a few months ago that if I was ever going to get her an engagement ring that she wanted to pick it out.

So yeah, that’s where I’m left. And my point of emailing you is in hopes that you might have some suggestions for what a temporary ring is or would look like/cost. I realize you guys aren’t like best friends or whatever, but I feel more comfortable asking you at this point. And, really, any guidance you might have is more than I know right now so whatever you offer is appreciated.


Is the whole idea of a starter engagement ring stupid? Should he just get her something affordable but awesome? But then there’s his whole point about sucking at picking out jewelry for her and how she mentioned she wanted to choose the ring herself. Should he do a ringless proposal altogether?


Lady said she wants to pick it out, SHE WANTS TO F*CKING PICK IT OUT.

Tell him to propose with a twistie tie. Or a gumball ring. Or NOTHING. Nothing would be just fine.

Wish I (2012) by Kensuke Koike

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JB on Jul 16, 2013

Yes, definitely propose sans ring - just a nice proposal and gesture (perhaps in Italy?!) and then they can pick the ring out together, based on his budget and her desires - there may need to be compromise, but hell that is what a marriage is about!

emily on Jul 16, 2013

Yeah, seriously - this just seems head-slappingly obvious. But if he absolutely must propose with a 'thing', I recommend one of those rad plastic spider rings you get around Halloween.

amelie on Jul 16, 2013

yup. precisely.

Hannah on Jul 16, 2013

Let the woman pick her ring. I was proposed to without the ring and we picked it out later together. Because I want what I want.

Hillary on Jul 16, 2013

I'd get her something else that is nice and symbolizes how you feel. Flowers or another piece of jewelry or a little gift of some kind.

Rob P. on Jul 16, 2013

Nailed it, ESB.

Jen on Jul 16, 2013

Agree with the above. And just to drive home the point of *why* a starter ring seems so unnecessary if your'e gonna shop together for a "real" one: materialistic, wasteful, tacky. It's really the sentiment that matters when you propose.

Maggie on Jul 16, 2013

I think it's nice to have a "thing" if you want to do the whole getting down on one knee adn putting the ring on her finger thing, so I vote gumball machine ring! Confession: I sort of wish I could have picked out my engagement ring. I love love love that my husband surprised me with it and went through all the effort, but it's not what I would have picked out. My "hinting" obviously fell on deaf ears. If she's said outright she wants to pick out a ring then I agree, let her pick out the ring!

Blythe on Jul 16, 2013

My fiancé proposed to me with a $70 Tiny Armour pyramid ring he found on my Pinterest because I am picky as hell, and because we had also talked about it and mutually decided that there is too much pressure on guys to miraculously produce the "perfect" ring. After he proposed we spent about six weeks going to all kinds of jewelry stores across NYC before we fell in love with a reasonably priced eighteenth-century gold cluster ring with an emerald surrounded by diamonds. It was magical and we found it together. And I love the first ring, which brings back happy memories of the proposal every time I wear it.

Emily on Jul 16, 2013

I agree, no ring or any of it is necessary - kneeling down isn't even necessary, saying "will you marry me?" isn't even necessary. My husband asked if I wanted to start talking about getting married in a romantic but also inclusive way. And it was great!

mrs. peacock on Jul 16, 2013

I was proposed to with an oragami paper box and we picked out my ring together, definitely think ringless is better than a "starter" ring.

sarah on Jul 16, 2013

Obviously they're already in talks about marriage. I would think the next step is going to look at rings. I gave my fiance a few options, he chose one (I didn't know which one) and surprised me with a proposal. Oh, I knew the proposal was coming, but I didn't know when or how and he totally caught me off guard! I even did the whole ridiculous laughing/crying thing...

Eve on Jul 16, 2013

Another vote for gumball machine ring, or nothing at all. I was proposed to with a $3 huge tacky as hell fake diamond-looking ring. It's kind of nice to have it as a souvenir, although I wouldn't have cared if he did it without a ring. Best bit though was telling people we were engaged, showing them the awful ring, and watching as they pretended to love it - bonus entertainment value!

Destination Wedding Photographer on Jul 16, 2013

it's all about expressing love... no matter how you do it.

Emily on Jul 16, 2013

If you want it to be a surprise, then by all means. Have a starter ring or just some fun to begin the wonderful journey. Me? Picky bride-to-be who has a very distinctive taste. I started sending him what I liked and the price tags attached. I found out what his price range was and found the perfect ring. I knew I was getting what I loved (this ring is perfection!) and the surprise was actually the proposal (with dinosaurs).

Los Angeles Family Portraits on Jul 16, 2013

It's not about the ring you put on her finger, it's about the love you put in her heart, the smile you put on her face, and the peace you impart to her spirit.

Heather on Jul 16, 2013

My husband proposed to me with a (very basic, used, I'm splitting the payments with him) car, and while he does have excellent style and knows my tastes very well, he would have no idea where to start with picking out a ring for me, and a car was the one thing that I needed and wanted more than just about anything. I love the guy so I would have said yes if he just handed me a cold can of beer and popped the question. I did have a huge amount of assholes ask me if I was still going to get an engagement ring and I eventually caved and found a very inexpensive but adorable vintage ring set on Ebay so I still got my engagement ring (that I put on as soon as it came in the mail, without waiting for my guy to come home and even see it first, I'm kind of not very romantic), but i was really happy that I got to pick it out myself. If the lady makes a fuss about not having a ring, she's probably not someone you're going to be stuck with forever.

Lauren on Jul 16, 2013

I really like Blythe's answer, I love the idea of a small ring you know she likes and together finding the ring that fits. I also think an idea of a starter ring is awesome. I know when my husband and I were engaged money was tight and we had to compromise on the ring. I honestly don't think this ring I have now will necessarily be the ring I have forever. I know my tastes will change. While the ring is giant symbol of my love and commitment, that love will evolve overtime and so why not my ring along with it?

stephanie on Jul 16, 2013

my boyfriend knew i wanted to pick my own ring, so instead he logged into my etsy account (unbeknownst to me) and bought a ring i had in my favourites - inexpensive, and so gorgeous that i happily wear it everyday on my other hand. the thing is, i would have been more than happy if he proposed with nothing. however, he felt it necessary to propose with a ring and knew better than to buy what he thought i'd like. i must admit, it was incredibly nice to be able to wear a ring on that finger straight away. whatever you do, don't buy 'the' ring without her. just don't do it. no matter how much you think you've picked the right one, you most likely haven't. propose with nothing or if you feel you must have something, buy a ring on etsy that maybe even resembles an engagement ring. just keep it sweet and cheap.

Günstige Brautmode on Jul 16, 2013

Amazing, this dress best designed for pinkish girl ,I will buy this for my wife, bcz she is pink :-)

Makri on Jul 16, 2013

My husband proposed without a ring so we could pick it out together which was amazing! However I used to sometimes wish he would have had "something", twist tie, plastic spider, gum ball machine, even a ring pop I could have rocked straight away.

Budget Wedding Invitations on Jul 17, 2013

We're all for proposing without a ring - they can choose the ring they want together!

meg on Jul 17, 2013

I say get what you can afford. It is not about the ring, the ring is a symbol. ;) I am very practical though...

Rachel on Jul 17, 2013

I think you ladies are wrong. I like to be in control of everything too and thought I wanted to pick out my own ring too. However, that's a terrible idea. Do you pick out your own Christmas presents? An engagement ring is a gift, a symbol from your significant other. So chill out and let him pick out a GIFT that he is paying for. I ended up being completely surprised with my ring, and I freaking love my yellow rock. Plus it means more to me that my partner picked it out, actually put thought into it. It came from him after all - not me! If you really want a certain ring, buy it for yourself for your next birthday, graduation, just because.

first milk on Jul 17, 2013

If the person wants to propose with a for-now ring, the person wants to propose with a for-now ring. A Kiel Mead forget-me-knot ring would fit the bill ever so nicely.

Blythe on Jul 17, 2013

To respond to Rachel's comment -- I didn't pick out my ring, we picked it out *together*. Because marriage is a partnership, and we wanted to start it out that way. For me that was much more meaningful than picking the ring out myself or letting my fiancé do all the work. Instead we found a ring that we both love, and by collaborating on it, we avoided certain uncomfortable associations -- in ancient Rome, for example, the engagement ring was given to the bride-to-be as a symbol of ownership. To Lauren, in case she checks back --- my dad proposed to my my mom with a tiny ring. A few years later, as their taste evolved and their budget became a little more flexible, they decided to buy a new ring. It was a wonderful way to celebrate their five year anniversary. About 15 years later, one of the stones fell out. As the ring had been insured, they decided to use the insurance money and a little extra to upgrade again to a similar ring, but even more sophisticated. I love that the beautiful ring she wears now tells the story of their long and happy marriage, and the way it has changed - and yet remained solid and happy - over the years.

Laura on Jul 17, 2013

@Rachel - And if he's not paying for it? A lot of people (myself included) split the cost of the ring. I've never seen my ring as a gift. I've seen it as a symbol of our relationship, which we've built together. Why shouldn't we pick out the ring together?

Emily on Jul 17, 2013

Go with nothing, or a paper ring. Fiance proposed with a $14 placeholder ring. When he said "let's go pick out a 'real' ring", I told him not to think about replacing MY ring. $14 or not, this is what the man I love offered me when he asked to marry me. This is what I will wear. It cannot be replaced.

Allison on Jul 17, 2013

My husband proposed with a 100 bill origami folded into a ring. He knew I wanted to design my own ring (I am particular aesthetically) and have me the origami ring as representative of the money he had saved over the years for my real ring. We used the stones from my Grandmother's ring that she had left me to custom design our own setting. It is more than I could have ever dreamed of. I get compliments on it all the time! Tell him to wait for her input in the process, but encourage creativity so the proposal still feels special.

Jessica on Jul 18, 2013

He should propose with no ring and then when they're in Istanbul, they should go to the amazing jewelry shops in the Grand Bazaar -- my husband and I got our wedding rings there from a shop called Modern Allians. They had an incredible selection of wedding bands, literally thousands of different sets, and we paid maybe a third of what we would have paid in the States. And that's just one of literally dozens of jewelry shops in the maze of the Grand Bazaar. It was an incredibly romantic shopping experience, and I'm taken back to it every time my ring catches the light.

Michelle Gee on Jul 21, 2013

I guess for a start, it is okay to have just an affordable one. It is not a big deal because it is just for a start. But I think we also need to consider the "first impressions last" attitude of some women.

lydia see on Jul 24, 2013

OR another lovely alternative that worked for us: my fiance was given a family ring by my mother to use for the proposal. it's GORGEOUS but it's not an "engagement ring" .. it's my great-grandmother's and I have always had a crush on it. It's not practical for every day wear so we agreed that when we start wedding planning we will either buy or have made our bands from the same jeweler so they'll all "fit" together.

Candice on Jul 29, 2013

My husband made his own ring--it was temporary--a lock of his hair beside together with mine. I keep it in a locket around my neck. Super sweet gesture, he also knew I would want to have a say in picking out the permanent ring.

Katy Perry on Mar 4, 2014

We are happily married couple for the last two years, before my proposal about wedding, my husband opt for personal asset loans in order to conform about proposing me through the expensive david yurman engagement ring. Although, it is bit too expensive on price tag but the craftsmanship is impeccable.

Kate Washington on Mar 4, 2014

Last year my brother faced the same situation like this one, later on several wandering and searching plenty of designs in the marketplace, got the nice elegant cartier ring in combination to mikimoto pearl necklaces for proposal.

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