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7 Ways To Pick The Perfect Engagement Ring Without Breaking The Bank

For most guys, the thought of buying a pair of pants is daunting enough, let alone picking out the ring that could make or break their engagement.

"It's an uncomfortable purchase for guys," says Josh Holland, spokesperson for online jeweler BlueNile.com. "They go to a jewelry store and they're overwhelmed and confused." 

It was BlueNile's founder's awkward experience shopping for a ring that inspired him to launch the company in the first place. 

"(The company) is based on product education," Holland says. "No one here works on commission. We empower customers with information." In today's economy, that often means helping consumers track down a ring that not only suits their mate but their budget as well. 

Here are seven smart ways to save on your engagement ring: 

Forget the 3-month rule. The old adage that men should budget three month's salary for the perfect engagement ring is basically a load of bull. "That's a myth. There are no real rules. Men should make a budget and try to stick to it," Holland says.

Don't skimp on the cut. There are Four C's in diamond-shopping: cut, color, clarity and carat. "A diamond's cut is the most critical because it determines a diamond's brilliance (sparkle)," Holland says. "We really counsel people on not worrying about size so much as cut. If you have a really sparkly and brilliant ring it'll appear bigger than a bigger, lower-cut quality diamond.

Think outside the 'big box'. More than $1 billion of the $9.64 billion spent on engagement and wedding rings in 2010 came from online purchases. That's because online retailers like BlueNile offer prices anywhere from 20 to 40 percent lower than bricks-and-mortar shops. "A traditional retailer would buy ring for $1,000 and sell it for $2,000. We'll buy that and sell it for $1,300," Holland says.

Don't be afraid to go down a half-carat. You can save hundreds of dollars but knowing how the pricing system works for carat. "Diamond prices jump disproportionately at the carat and half-carat marks," according to Holland, so you'll want to buy just shy of those levels. "For example, instead of a 1 carat diamond, look for a .95. You'll save a significant amount of money, and the slight size difference will never be noticed."

Trust your eyes. Ask for an 'eye-clean' diamond, rather than 'flawless'. Most so-called "flaws" occur naturally in diamonds and can't be viewed by the human eye–no one will see what it is you're paying so much for. " To achieve the best value consider a near-colorless (graded G-H) instead of a colorless diamond (graded D-F) or a VS2 (Very Slightly Included) clarity grade as opposed to a Flawless clarity grade," he advises. 

Check the return policy. So, the worst has happened and your fiancee girlfriend hates the ring–what if it's too late to return it? That's the case at many high-end jewelers, which either have 24-hour policies or none at all. The good news is many have loosened up a little on returns and offer 30-day policies, including BlueNile. 

Buy Certified. "All diamonds are not created equal," Holland says. Don't pull out your credit card until you've seen certification by at least one independent grading agency–such as the Gemological Institute of America or the American Gem Society. "If your diamond has been graded by the jeweler behind the counter, it's a bit like the fox guarding the hen house," he says." 

Now see 15 things you should NEVER waste your money on >

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