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Debunking the 3-Month Salary Myth: A Modern Guide to Budgeting for an Engagement Ring in South Africa

low-angle photo of engagement rings in a shop window in South Africa with an African man looking into the display from the outside

The 3-month salary rule has long been a benchmark for how much one should spend on an engagement ring. But is this rule still relevant, especially in a diverse and economically varied landscape like South Africa? This article aims to debunk the 3-month salary myth and offer more practical ways to set your engagement ring budget.

The Origins of the 3-Month Salary Rule

The 3-month salary rule is often attributed to marketing campaigns by diamond companies in the mid-20th century. It was a clever strategy to boost diamond sales, but it’s worth questioning whether this one-size-fits-all approach is applicable today.

The Economic Reality

In South Africa, economic conditions can vary widely between individuals and regions. The 3-month salary rule doesn’t take into account factors like debt, cost of living, or other financial commitments, making it an impractical guideline for many.

Cultural Considerations

In some South African cultures, the engagement ring is just one part of broader customs like lobola (bride price). Allocating three months’ salary solely for the ring may not be feasible or culturally appropriate in these contexts.

Alternative Approaches to Budgeting

  1. Percentage of Savings: Consider spending a percentage of your savings rather than a percentage of your salary.
  2. Monthly Expenditure: Calculate your monthly discretionary income and decide on a budget based on what you can realistically save over a few months.
  3. Value-Based Budgeting: Focus on what the ring symbolises for you and your partner. Sometimes, a less expensive ring can hold more sentimental value.

The Rise of Affordable Alternatives

With the increasing popularity of budget-friendly options like lab-grown diamonds and Moissanite, you can find a beautiful ring that doesn’t break the bank.

The Importance of Financial Planning

Setting a budget for an engagement ring should be part of a larger financial plan. Consider other upcoming expenses like the wedding, honeymoon, or buying a home. Use budgeting tools to get a comprehensive view of your financial landscape.


The 3-month salary rule is an outdated guideline that doesn’t consider the economic and cultural diversity of modern South Africa. By taking a more nuanced approach to budgeting, you can choose an engagement ring that is both meaningful and financially responsible.

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