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Published on July 30th, 2013 | by Dr. Joel McDurmon

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My $3,500 advice to couples contemplating marriage

I have some advice for couples, especially young couples, contemplating marriage. I am not normally known for marital or pre-marital counseling, but what I am about to tell you could be one of the best bits of pre-marital counseling you’ll ever get.

When I was being counseled before marriage, I was told that three issues make up the vast majority of marital problems for newlyweds. Number three is money; two is sex; and the number one issue is in-laws.

country-rustic-chic-engagement-ring-wedding-band-photo-pave-diamondsI have advice on in-laws, but that’s not for today. And while many more people need it than you might imagine, I am also not going to talk about sex here. That leaves money for today.

The advice I am about to give you could save you anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000 or even more on the front end. Properly used or invested, such a sum will make a very healthy difference in the lives of a young married couple.

So here it is. Simply put: don’t fall into the diamond pit. A diamond ring is one of the most ridiculous and wasteful investments you could ever make. Save the huge sum you would have sunk into diamond ring, and give it to the bride-to-be in a more sensible and valuable form: gold, cash, property, whatever.

You think that’s far out? Perhaps you think I’m one of those “blood diamond” types. That’s not it. Blood diamonds are more evil that others, but all diamonds are ridiculous as far as statements, statuses, and investments—unless, of course, you’re inside the cartel. Then you can make millions.

Otherwise (and here’s the great lie exposed), you’re paying for something that is not really that rare, has been pumped up purely on clever marketing, and for which you can never get anywhere near what you paid for it if you needed.

In short, diamonds are not worth what you pay, and there are many better ways to spend or save that money. Why in the word would you start your marriage with something that amounts to nothing more than a bad investment? There may be a solid rock there, but it’s not the right one, and it’s certainly not a solid foundation.

Some of the best investigative reporting on the great fraud that is diamonds was done by Edward J. Epstein. In a 1982 article, he writes,

The diamond invention—the creation of the idea that diamonds are rare and valuable, and are essential signs of esteem—is a relatively recent development in the history of the diamond trade. Until the late nineteenth century, diamonds were found only in a few riverbeds in India and in the jungles of Brazil, and the entire world production of gem diamonds amounted to a few pounds a year. In 1870, however, huge diamond mines were discovered near the Orange River, in South Africa, where diamonds were soon being scooped out by the ton. Suddenly, the market was deluged with diamonds. The British financiers who had organized the South African mines quickly realized that their investment was endangered; diamonds had little intrinsic value—and their price depended almost entirely on their scarcity. The financiers feared that when new mines were developed in South Africa, diamonds would become at best only semiprecious gems. . . .

After explaining the historical formation of the cartel, Epstein continued:

The diamond invention is far more than a monopoly for fixing diamond prices; it is a mechanism for converting tiny crystals of carbon into universally recognized tokens of wealth, power, and romance. To achieve this goal, De Beers had to control demand as well as supply. Both women and men had to be made to perceive diamonds not as marketable precious stones but as an inseparable part of courtship and married life. To stabilize the market, De Beers had to endow these stones with a sentiment that would inhibit the public from ever reselling them. The illusion had to be created that diamonds were forever — “forever” in the sense that they should never be resold.

Brilliant! (Sorry, couldn’t help myself.) Epstein goes on to explain the history of the marketing campaign used to exalt diamonds. By 1947, the marketers were overt, throwing it in our faces: “We are dealing with a problem in mass psychology. We seek to … strengthen the tradition of the diamond engagement ring — to make it a psychological necessity capable of competing successfully at the retail level with utility goods and services….” (emphases mine).

For a good education, I would suggest reading Epstein’s book, The Rise and Fall of Diamonds, which in its own words is about “The men, the giant cartel, the inspired campaign that convinced the world Diamonds Are Forever, an artificially maintained illusion of value. . . .”

The illusion is shattered the moment you consider one question: “Have you ever tried to sell a diamond?” If you have, you have learned that the mark-up price on diamonds is tremendous, and that dealers are almost universally hesitant to buy them back, even at half of what you paid.

Why? Because diamonds aren’t really worth that much. They aren’t that rare, especially compared to some other gems. In the end, they are hard, and they sparkle. Aside from industrial uses, that’s about it.

But aren’t they rare? Not really. About 57,000 lbs. of diamonds are produced every year. Imagine an entire semi-truck full of thousands upon thousands of diamonds. Since the start of the diamond campaigns, about 4.5 Billion carats have been mined. Think about it: that’s enough to give every single woman on the face of the earth a big fat 1.3 carat diamond of her very own. Does that sound rare to you?

Even one writer for the International Gem Society admits, “Due to some excellent advertising, diamonds are believed to be the rarest of gemstones. One simple example will help put that into perspective: How many women do you know who don’t own at least one diamond?”

Heck, scientists just discovered an entire planet made out of diamond.

Rubies are actually rarer than diamonds, and many other lesser-known gems are, too. Now consider that the Bible says a virtuous woman is worth much more than rubies (Prov. 31:10), and perhaps you should rethink the gesture by which you would choose to engage her.

But then some will say it’s actually the cut that makes the difference. Not really. If that were true, then a nicely cut cubic zirconia should be as valuable as a diamond.

I could go on about this all day (especially in more detailed argument in regard to the “4 Cs” that determine the price (not the value) of diamonds), but my point should be clear. A diamond is a lousy investment. As a way of pledging your life to a woman, once you understand the sham, it’s a slap in the face. If you really understand the diamond market, you’re saying, “As my foundational symbolic act of love toward you, I have made an investment that lost 50% immediately and I’ll never get it back. I have been outmaneuvered by a retailer cleverer than I, and I paid dearly. You could have had the money for yourself, but I got sharked. But look, it sparkles! Will you marry me?”

But what about the potential bride? After all, she also has probably been conditioned by the marketing and social illusion under which we live. She expects a diamond. You can’t just spring a no-diamond on her or else you may hurt her feelings. Yet it seems difficult to educate her in advance without her realizing you’re already considering marriage. I see the difficulty. But in good Christian circles, the element of surprise regarding “popping the question” should (by “should” I mean by moral obligation) already be largely gone anyway. This is a serious discussion worth having with her, then. Once educated on the matter, if a potential bride does not see the merits of spending a few grand more wisely than on an over-marketed, overpriced piece of carbon to sparkle on her finger, then she’s not worth marrying. In other words, if she understands, and yet still demands you sink the money, she is acting selfishly and probably does not have good judgment in general. That does not bode well for the next sixty-five years.

On the other hand, if you do choose to marry a girl who demands the malinvestment of overpriced bling, then at least you know you have the type of girl who can be distracted by shiny objects. I would suggest investing in laser pointers, pinwheels, and Zippo lighters as well.

I read recently that the average price paid for engagement rings in American is about $3,500. One study said $5,000, but it was noted that that study did not count sales from Walmart. Either way, it’s a lot of money, especially for a young couple starting out. It’s just terrible to see such a tremendous waste.

My advice is to have this discussion seriously with your bride to be, and agree not to fall into the diamond pit. Then, talk with your parents and church elders about ways a young couple could better invest the money. For example, a good life insurance policy. Or else, just save the money. A virtuous woman will not only understand, she will be inspired by the wisdom and forethought of the decision. She will praise you for it. And a start like that will bode well for decades to come.

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About the Author

Dr. Joel McDurmon

Joel McDurmon, Ph.D. in Theology from Pretoria University, is the Director of Research for American Vision. He has authored seven books and also serves as a lecturer and regular contributor to the American Vision website. He joined American Vision's staff in the June of 2008. Joel and his wife and four sons live in Dallas, Georgia.



35 Responses to My $3,500 advice to couples contemplating marriage

  1. John says:

    Very sensible. However, sensible girls really do like diamonds despite the so called fraud. We were married 30 years ago. We lived within our budget. We always have. We paid our debts off early and have never bought a luxury item on borrowed money. Neither should you. The diamond ring was 0.08 carrots, really just a chip and she loved it and she loved me, still does and it cost about $200 then. After 15 years, 6 children and hard work and better economic circumstances, I gave her a new diamond. Just over a carat. She helped the jeweler design the ring. She loved it. It was a good diamond and cost me about $14,000. A year ago I came home from work and my dear wife showed me the ring without the diamond. It had fallen out of the setting sometime that day. It was gone. She was upset. She said not to spend much to replace it. But I love her so much I bought an almost perfect diamond, a bit under 2 carats. Significantly better economic circumstances, but still way below our means. Cost me $44,000. Just so you know, the high grade diamonds are the rare ones and they really do sparkle like nothing else. It is all relative and the diamond economy is a real economy and creates real jobs and real wealth.
    John

    • Curry says:

      What girl would not like a sparkly rock on her finger she did not pay for which says, “My guy loooooves me!”. Balderdash. Marriage is difficult enough without starting out demonstrating no financial sense. “But he loooooves me!” she coos. Right. See how much that ring will fetch at the pawn shop when you have been out of work for six months and need to put food on the table. Been there, done that. A diamond ring at the start of a marriage is as bad as running the credit card to its limit to get furniture and all the other new stuff young married people think they can’t do without. They need to sit down with a financial counselor who can show them how to use their money to make money, and then about 7 years later, IF they are still together, they can do a financial reassessment and then think about getting a nice ring, etc.

  2. Vic says:

    This explains why royalty doesn’t buy diamond rings. They usually give emeralds or sapphires. Remember, Princess Diana’s ring had a huge sapphire, but if I remember correctly, it was surrounded with very small diamonds, or at least it looked like diamonds.

  3. michelle says:

    I am a woman, well over the blushing bride age. I have actually held this thinking without knowing the facts, just knowing how over priced jewelry in retail stores actually is. My husband and I chose a stainless wedding band with our names engraved. They are durable, unique and I can see his name every time I glance at my hand. Priceless!

  4. Fred says:

    I sure took it on the chin for this article. If you are only looking at diamond rings as an investment then yes—I agree. Pragmatically it makes much more sense to do otherwise.However this , for most people, is not about pragmatism and investment. We would never buy a big screen tv, new clothes, new cars, new appliances if we used this logic. Buying a ring is a cultural thing and we are cultural beings. Most women would not get rid of their original ring for twice the amount. Many pass them down as heirlooms. It is the thought, of course with a unstated virtue of sacrifice on the mans side to give something as a symbol of a bond. What it is is up to the couple, but for most, the diamond ring is just a cultual expectation, whether the industry lies to us or not about rarity or price. I think most people understand that they are over-valued.

  5. Publius says:

    And another thing: flowers, the things cost a fortune and then they just die. And that stupid dress, who wears white after Labor Day anyway; costs a mint. Whataya gonna do? Keep it for the next wedding? Only a chump buys that stuff. And the food, why can’t these freeloaders bring their own. Doesn’t Paul admonish people that to eat at home. Not to mention renting a hall! Heck, you’re only gonna be there a couple hours and they want a thousand bucks or more, for what? a party? What kind of way is that to begin a marriage. Life ain’t no party. You can all meet down at the beach, or just facebook the wedding. And children, they’re nothing but a headache; all they do is touch everything. Their noses are running all the time. Buy a plant. And why are you getting married anyway. Jesus is coming back soon, Paul says better fuhgetaboutit. Great article. He’s definitely on the right track. We could really run with this.

    • John Hand says:

      Funny Publius, funny.

    • Alex Alexander says:

      You gonna run for Prez, Publius? Ya shud!
      Alex A
      UK

      • Tionico says:

        certainly got more brains than the present excuse of one. I do take umbrage concerning his disdain for children. If someone hadn’t dealt with this guy’s loaded nappies and snotty noses, he’d not be here to tease us, now, would he?

      • Tionico says:

        any chance that’s an alsa ess er or sumpin like?

  6. kennethos says:

    Joel:
    1) There’s grammatical errors in your article. Please fix them. It’s 2013. We have spellcheck in Word. Not much of an excuse for that.
    2) No real disagreement on this from a male perspective (and that’s certainly what you’re coming from), but I’d be interested in hearing from more women, since the logic and rationale you present here will come into some conflict with their emotional desires. The diamond industry may have snookered everybody, but God still calls us to love our wives, especially in their emotional needs and wants (regardless of how logical we may or may not find them).

    I remember hearing a man say something similar in a Dear Abby/Ann Landers column. She took him to task, for not being sensitive (or in our case, pastoral), to others needs. You know, like God does for us, in Scripture. After all, we don’t need taste buds. We don’t need a sense of aethetic. But something the imago dei God made us with still does it. Perhaps that’s why women enjoy the beauty in jewelry.
    Otherwise, some very valid points.

    • Joel McDurmon Joel McDurmon says:

      “There’s grammatical errors in your article.” Gotta love it.

      • John Hand says:

        Yeah Joel. I noticed that right away. His first word is a grammatical error in case the less educated that read this don’t know. I not only caught one grammatical error in his bit, but several.

      • kennethos says:

        Joel:
        Yes, I made a mistake, as did you. Thanks for noticing, as did I. (No edit function on these, sadly, unlike on FB.) Word is good on documents, not so much on the internet. Gotta love that.
        I also enjoy how there was no response. It’s a good reminder: offer compliments early in a response, corrections later…else the good author of a piece will lose track of things. Oh well!
        Still enjoyed what you wrote…the first time.

  7. Charla says:

    I’m a woman and totally agree……….also about the crazy weddings too! We got our rings at James Avery for less than $100 each and I LOVE mine!! It’s silver so it still “shines”! We also had our wedding in my friend’s back yard – me and my mom did the food ourselves so cost was minimal and everyone enjoyed it.

  8. Greg says:

    I think diamonds are dull and boring. I much prefer rubies, emeralds, and sapphires. Jade is also pretty.

  9. Fibbo Senior says:

    Well, I guess it depends on the time period. I paid off a loan to my wife’s father instead of buying a ring that was “wholesale” at $600. I finally bought it for our 20th anniversary, for $10,000, which really was wholesale!

  10. Parley says:

    Joel, I’d like to get your wife aside at a party and ask her confidentially whether she agrees with your counsel. You miss the point. Yes, the diamond industry has snookered us, but that’s the way it is in our generation. The point is that the lady needs something to demonstrate to herself and to her friends the depth of your affection. Today it must be a diamond, the bigger the better. Years ago it was a dowry, a bride price, given to her father—money, gold, cows, whatever the culture had settled on. Impractical, yes. Materialistic, yes. Prideful, of course. Important, definitely. We give our God 10% of our increase annually. Does He really need it? No. He could show our clergyman where a treasure is hidden. We, however, need to give it to show the depth of our commitment to Him. That’s why we give unnecessary baubles to our chosen companion, and she needs to get it for a variety of reasons. 57 years after the fact, I still see my bride looking at her modest diamond (bought for cash in my poverty) and still smiling as she admires it. My counsel, guys? Get her a nice diamond, but don’t start your life together with debt for it. Give her decades of pleasure remembering how much she meant to you even then.

    • Joel McDurmon Joel McDurmon says:

      I’ll spare you and my wife the disappointment of that conversation. She agrees with me 110%. I am afraid you are the one missing the point. You say, “The point is that the lady needs something to demonstrate to herself and to her friends the depth of your affection.” Isn’t that the whole point of the article? Yes. But then you say, “Today it must be a diamond….” Nonsense. My point is, No, today it doesn’t have to be a diamond. Everyone just thinks it does. You and I agree we’re snookered. We just disagree on remaining snookered.

      • Fred says:

        Joel—I get your point that we do not have to go along with “culture”, But I also think if someones fiancee/wife disagrees there, you better get her the ring.

      • Alex says:

        Good article. I married a woman that did not want a diamond engagement ring. In fact, she did not want an engagement ring at all. I have the most practical, loving wife ANY man could desire. She is my best friend and partner in all that life throws our way.

        The history of the diamond industry is “out” for anyone to see. If they choose to be intentionally taken for a sucker, then that’s all on them.

        BTW, I am not religious in any form or fashion (though I used to be – long story), but your counsel is sound.

        • John Hand says:

          Alex, you say you ‘used to be religious…’ Well, that time you tried religion. Next time, maybe you could try…Christianity. There is a difference. And time is growing short. All that is predicted in the Christian Bible is coming to pass as we dally on this page.

      • Tionico says:

        Joel, I really appreciated your mentioning the relative value of rubies, sapphire, etc. Personally I find diamonds rather boring… they all look so much the same from even a foot away. Only when you pull out the loupe can you begin to tell the specific differences. Subtle differences i hue don’t impress me much. Degree of sparkle or brilliance don’t either. I personally appreciate the huge variety and character of opal, and there are SO many types out there, and so many creative ways of using them. AND they are relatively low priced, and hold their value well. Turquoise is somewhat similar, though I’ve seen little done with them that is really impressive. You are correct, those wise, maneouvring Dutchies really put one over on us when they decided to “protect” their interests. It’s STILL working more than a century later, judging by the comments. “its GOTTA be a diamond”. Really? Why NOT emerald, sapphire, ruby? Some women’s skin, eye, hair colour make some of these stones fairly sing…. but diamonds? They are so… transparent.

    • John Hand says:

      I think just the fact that a male is willing to walk down the aisle (if there is one) is proof enough of his affection for the bride to be. Sure, the bride needs a bauble to show off to her friends, but later comes the harsh reality as the bills for the utilities come in, and the rent/house payment, car payment, insurance..oh wait, Obama is going to save us.

  11. Michael Earl Riemer says:

    Very good post Brother. Great advice. I love this kind of information, finding out about important things I did not know. How the “real” world of evil, hidden behind the curtain, operates. I had heard that before about diamonds, that they were very over priced, but had never really looked into it. I can now add that to the “list” of scams I know about. The Bible is correct again, “The love of money is the root of evil.”

    • Alex Alexander says:

      Michael: When you gonna stop buyin all those dimonds?!
      Shame on you!
      Alex A

    • Tionico says:

      perhaps “a fool and his money are soon parted” might hit closer to home?

  12. graham says:

    Why stop there? Enough with extravagant weddings too. Put the money on a down payment for their first home. Women are conditioned to expect the “Lady Di” treatment by the wedding industry. “Be not conformed to the world” comes into play here. Unfortunately most churches are complicit in this as they depend on rental money for the sanctuary, “ministerial fees”, pianist fees etc. They won’t kill the goose that lays the golden egg.

  13. DrewJ says:

    Brilliant!

  14. tammy says:

    ALL the videos go on at once when you load these pages….its unnverving…..its there a script so that the videos do not go on automatically upon landing on web site….so many news places do this and I just want to leave the page.

    • rusureuwant2know says:

      Try Firefox with their free Adblock Plus – it’s what I’m using and the videos aren’t doing anything for me until I click on them. :)

  15. Still Learning says:

    Great article Joel. Like you say, it’s all a slick marketing operation. People need to be educated about this. At the time I proposed, I wasn’t, but I did have enough sense not to pay retail for the diamond ring. I got a nice “antique” one for $185 at a pawn shop that was later appraised at $1500.

  16. Still Learning says:

    Great article Joel. Like you say, it’s all a slick marketing operation. People need to be educated about this. At the time I proposed, I wasn’t, but I did have enough sense to not pay retail for the diamond ring. I got a nice “antique” one for $185 at a pawn shop that was later appraised at $1500.

  17. Lenoris Daniels says:

    Thanks for this article, Dr. Durmon! Very sound article! Keep up the good work!

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