I Wouldn’t Buy Our Wedding Rings Again

and other thoughts on minimalism and frugality

5 years ago the center stone of my wedding ring fell out. We added that expense to our list of “things to buy when we can afford it.” I suppose we could afford to replace the stone today, as we have $50,000 in our checking accounts. But I never have. Partly frugality. Partly minimalism. Mostly, my 15-year marriage isn’t in that ring. And it never really was.

minimalism and frugality

It’s a new lesson I’ve been learning in my journey with minimalism. One that has helped me let go of a bunch of stuff that used to seem so important. And it’s helped me stop buying new versions of that stuff.

1. Stuff isn’t what it represents

I’m a bit embarrassed to admit it. But we went into even more debt to buy that wedding ring. Mr. Montana had bought a very simple Irish claddagh to propose with for a whopping $30 (what he could actually afford) and I had said yes! But shortly after we started ring shopping. I wanted something that I would love. Something I would be thrilled to wear every day for the rest of my life. And mostly, deep down, I wanted something that would say, “This marriage is important. It’s going to last. I married the love of my life.” to myself and everyone who saw it.

At this point, dear Mr. Montana didn’t have more than $30 to spend. I think by the time it was all said and done, we owed $800 for both of our rings.

Looking back now, I wish we would never have bought the wedding rings. Not because they were too expensive. Not even because we had to take on more debt.

The rings don’t make the marriage. 

Just like my dishes don’t make me a great host.

My book collection doesn’t represent what I have read.

A big house doesn’t mean I’m successful, happy and have my life together.

This summer we celebrated 15 years of marriage. We have raised 6 children together. We have traveled through 27 countries. We have lived in the nation’s capital. We have lived abroad. We have bought and renovated 3 houses together. We have buried a child. We have explored, adventured and tried new things. We have drunk coffee (him) and tea (me) in the cool of a summer morning in our backyard.

A ring can’t hold that. It can’t even represent a fraction of that. Buying a ring doesn’t buy you that. Hosting a lovely wedding doesn’t give it to you.

Putting $800 on a credit card was easy. Building our life together, chasing dreams together, winning and failing together, raising 6 amazing kids together was where the magic lies. Now, our wedding rings feel like a cheap and silly substitute for the real deal.

Certain items and what I thought they represented use to be so tightly woven together. But the knot is starting to loosen. Some things still hold some nostalgia for me.

For most things, the promise has been replaced by actual life. The magic is in the living, the doing, the experiencing. Those items were just a poor man’s stand in.

2. My life is bigger than my stuff

I can’t fully ascribe to an abundance philosophy because so many elements of our life are extremely finite. The number of days we have on this earth. The hours in our day. The amount of energy and focus we can give. The dollars currently in our bank account.

So we have to choose. We have to find what is essential. What we want on our highlight reel. What matters less, so we can get what matters more.

Minimalism makes space for what is more important. And by space I mean: time, energy, focus, and money. All those finite and mostly irreplaceable things. (Money is very replaceable, but the time, energy and focus you put into earning that money is not.)

The most practical and honest example of this comes from being a mom with 5 little kids at home. I wrote about our 3×3 rule for our kids’ toys. Because, for real, picking up toys was a joyless and time-consuming task. For everyone. So urging my kids to do a task they also hated not only took time but it drained my energy.

Most of my friends are in this season of life. The season of picking things up. Our backs are sore because we’re picking stuff up ALL. DAY. LONG. It would be wonderful if we were just picking up our kids, but it’s their stuff. We spend long Saturday afternoons, not out at the lake playing in the water, but sorting puzzles because 8 puzzles were dumped together into a puzzle soup. Rendering them utterly useless unless we give up an hour of this one wild and precious life to sorting puzzle pieces.

Our lives are bigger than our stuff.

We can travel, and go out on adventures. We can hike in GNP for the day. We can go to the playground and grab a .25 cent ice cream. Or I can sort puzzle piece soup.

I gave a talk to a MOPS group about creating margin. Here’s the gist: All this awesome, cool stuff I do? It’s in direct correlation to everything I don’t do.

I don’t pick up toys. I don’t sort puzzle pieces. I don’t make crazy, fun, interesting lunches for my kids. I don’t have a large, complicated wardrobe that takes me 30 minutes to put together a stylish outfit.

The reason the mentoring questions are so important: once you know what you really want out of this one wild and precious life you have been given, it’s easier to see what didn’t make the list. You’re not voting against sorting puzzle soup for an hour. You are voting for something bigger. You are voting to take that time/energy/focus and pour it into something that resonates so deeply you would regret forever if you didn’t at least try.

For me, minimalism and frugality are the realization that I can’t have it all. My life, full of all the things that matter most to me, doesn’t have space for the things that don’t matter….or sometimes even the things that don’t matter “as much.”


For conversation:

Have you ever tried to buy something for what it represented?

Anythings that were so important, now losing their significance?

Weddings and wedding rings are such controversial topics, why do you think that is?


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29 thoughts on “I Wouldn’t Buy Our Wedding Rings Again

  1. I really love this. I think because we all have that mindset when we go into marriage… that the rings are the first huge thing to show how serious it is. But it’s not. It’s the commitment and sticking it out when it would be easier to walk away. It’s going into the marriage, knowing that we are in this together, forever. I would be sad if something happened to my ring. Not because of the setting or anything like that. Simply because my husband thought of me in how it’s made and everytime I look at it, I remember that he knew me so well and thought of me even in the beginning.

    We do well most times, not buying things for what it represents. But I have a problem with pride. We took a step early in marriage of buying a vehicle that was all for making us look good. Although we could have paid it off, I pushed to sell it. Because for me, I had to get over my pride and make a change in how I looked at myself. That was the trigger.

    Of the two of us, my husband is the sentimental one (surprisingly), so he’s always trying to hoard things that I’m ready to get rid of. But I we do have some things that I keep and while they may lose their significance and be added to the donation pile at some point, for now, I’ll hold on to those things.

    • It’s so easy to feel defined by our stuff or even our body. I think there is a lot of pressure, and it’s challenging to rise above what others think. It takes a lot of gumption! I had the tires rotated a few months back, and I think the tire guy felt bad for me. Like I must be stuck in poverty to drive our ugly car. I just had to laugh. All I could think was, “Dude, it’s really OK. I’m rich!” I don’t need a slick car, I have bank statements now. =)

      • Hahaha Most people don’t understand that frugality is a choice most times. My grandmother sent money through my sister so I could go out to eat recently. I laughed and sent it back. Just because I choose to be frugal doesn’t mean I’m poor. I enjoy way too many things in my life to waste money on the majority of frivolous spending.
        I’ll have bank statements that say I’m rich one day 🙂 Right now, I have a home that says my days are filled with a rich life. And I’m content with that.

  2. I feel you about the wedding ring. We didn’t go into debt for ours, but in my line of work wearing a diamond ring isn’t really practical. We have a rider on our home insurance policy for it, but I’d be curious to sit down and figure out how long before we’ve essential paid for the ring again with the cost of insurance premiums. If something happened to it I’d be sad, but I wouldn’t replace it with a “traditional” wedding set.

    I agree that a marriage can’t be summed up in a physical thing like a ring. It can be hard to resist the temptation to equate a physical thing to what it represents.

    • I think there is a lot of temptation and cultural expectation. Marketing has played a huge role in that. =) But at this point, there is no way I would spend the average engagement ring price. For 5-8k, I would rather take an amazing trip or spend it on something we could really enjoy rather than try to buy the artifact of something un-buyable.

  3. I appreciate your comment about how, after 15 years of marriage, you realize the ring is a cheap substitute for the real thing. Let the puzzle fall where it may, and don’t replace the ring. Daylight’s burning, Live Life!

    • It’s been a slow change. 15 years ago it was very important. 5 years ago when the stone fell out (on our 10th anniversary weekend!!!), I was really sad and planned to replace it as soon as possible. But over the last few years, this journey with minimalism has changed my perspective. Our marriage has been so full, so meaningful and just feels big. How could a piece of jewelry hold any of that? The last 5 years I have worn a simple band from my great grandmother. It’s not really my style, but I loved her so dearly that I don’t mind. =)

  4. This is an eye opener story.

    An intro: I bought an engagement ring below 100€ when I proposed with the intention of getting together the real thing. My wife did not want that. The ring was the real thing.

    Our wedding rings are what we wanted for a reasonable budget.

    At our 5 years anniversary I got my wife a nice ring. I saved for it. I plan to do the same at our 10 year anniversary.

    Reading the story, I should maybe discuss to transform our gift budget into an experience budget: a family trip to a nice city with some splurge activities so that there are memories.

    • I’m definitely not anti-jewelry if the value it gives back is worth the price (and for some people it is!) But at this point in life, I don’t really want more jewelry, especially jewelry over $100. A few weeks of rest and play on the Croatian coast though, well that would be amazing at this point. =) We did a three-week trip there 6 years ago and I thought it was heaven!

      I think it’s always worth the conversation. 1. What would add the most value to us (at this point) 2. What would we enjoy the most. Because things change. A nice ring was probably a great idea for the 5 year, but maybe something different would fit better to celebrate 10 years. =)

  5. Great post.

    We are working towards minimalism too. We just donated a ton of our baby/early toddler stuff and my wife is continuously changing out our son’s toys (similar to your 3 x 3 plan). That way we are not spending our evenings cleaning, but instead sitting in the backyard and drinking wine.

    We spent a lot on my wife ring. It was my choice and I am glad I did it, but if she ever lost it I do not think we would replace it.

    • I think the desire to buy/own a big ring mostly happens at the beginning. A few years/few kids into the marriage most people find a more meaningful way to drop a few grand. At this point (with 5 little kids at home), a week long trip-kid free would feel way more amazing that 3 carrots of anything! =)

  6. I got an affordable ring for Mrs. RB40 too. We were young and penniless. She likes it, but we don’t even wear our rings anymore. I never liked the feel of the ring especially when I go to the gym. Now our rings are in the safe at home. I don’t think anyone ever notice that we don’t wear our rings.

    • Mr. Mt has considered switching to a silicone ring. Metal rings are rather dangerous, especially with all the construction/car maintenance he does. Plus his original is the kind of metal that is very challenging to cut off if there was an incident. I think 15 years ago, if we would have had the money, I probably would have spent more, just because it was the norm. But at this point, there are a lot of ways I would prefer to spend a few thousand dollars other than big jewelry. 15 years in, and I have nothing to prove anymore. =)

  7. Fabulous, fabulous article, I loved it so much! The switch in perspective from valuing material possessions and desiring them less is an awesome, enlightening experience, it’s great. I am getting more and more inline to less meaningful things is effectively more. Great read. Thanks for sharing.

    • I think it’s a process, and sometimes a long one (mine 15 years in the making!) but it’s a great feeling. Glad you liked the article, Dan! Thanks for the comment. =)

  8. My wife sold her engagement ring last year for many of the same reasons. Our marriage isn’t defined by an expensive ring that she hardly wore anymore. We didn’t need the money, but we could certainly put it to better use on the dreams we have now. I wrote about our experience here:

    Getting married was our dream then – we got that and will have it forever. Now we’ve got new dreams we can chase together!

    • I remember reading about that! That was a bold move for sure. I’m not sure we would have sold mine. But it’s current value was probably about $300 at this point. (If we were lucky!) If it would have been worth 5-10k, well, it would have been more tempting. =)

  9. Haha! Went to Rockstar and saw the title of this post and thought, “Oh, wow, that’s something Ms. Montana would say.” Boy was I smiling when I clicked the link. Very thoughtful post, my Big Sky friend. Why do people invest so much in the meaningless representations of their lives (wedding rings, cars, clothes, etc.) and not their actual lives? I never understood why people get so crazed over weddings. Does a groom really love his bride any less if he bought an engagement ring that was less than three months of his salary? Oh, and BTW, the best wedding I ever went to was in a VFW hall and had a buffet of comfort food and a couple of kegs of beer.

    • You are starting to be able to pick me out from a crowd, friend!I love your point about investing in their actual lives instead of the representations of those lives. There areally a lot of ways that money could be spent to actually build up a marriage and give it a stronger foundation.

  10. I love this message! The rings definitely do not represent the relationship. My husband proposed with an Irish claddagh ring he found on the playground in middle school. It was perfect for us, and I loved that it had some history (apparently he knew his perfect fit wouldn’t require an expensive ring). For our wedding we got simple matching bands since we both are on construction sites regularly.

    People (us included) have a tendency to go overboard when it comes to weddings. The thought that it is “the best day in your life” is so pervasive. In our 3.5 years of marriage and 10 year relationship the rings are not what hold us together or remind us of the other, it’s the bond we have formed by sharing our lives. The wedding day was great, but a splurge, and it was just an inflection point in our journey together.

    • Thinking about the wedding as an inflection point is a great way to look at it. One highlight on a long journey together. And I LOVE the story about how we found the ring and saved it all those years! That is crazy and very sweet. =)

  11. I like this – thanks for posting.

    When I proposed to my wife 21 years ago (or so), I did so with a fake ring. Okay, the ring was real, but the diamond wasn’t. As a new entrepreneur, you see, money was very tight. So, I bought the ring from a jeweler without a stone, then had a department store set a nice-looking cubic zirconia crystal. Of course, I fessed up right away with my new fiancee, explaining that I’d replace the crystal with a real diamond someday, when we could afford it. Luckily for me, she agreed.

    Years passed and our finances gradually improved. We bought a house, raised kids, and my business grew. I thought about replacing the ring a few times, but we never got around to it. Then, five years ago, we bought a nicer house in a better part of town and, during the move, my wife’s engagement ring disappeared. Perhaps it slipped off a piece of furniture and fell into a mover’s pocket. We’ll never know.

    My wife was devastated. I tried reminding her that the ring didn’t have very much monetary value, but that wasn’t her concern. It was HER engagement ring and it represented something. Memories were attached to the ring. At the time, it was a big deal that it was gone.

    These days, we can afford to buy a nice ring with a real diamond. I even shopped for one at a high end jewelry store while I was out of town last year. But I couldn’t plunk down that much money without talking with my wife first. When we discussed it, she was happy that I had thought about it, but she no longer wanted a fancy ring. She’d rather use the money to take a nice trip and create more memories together. (We did go to Europe with the kids over the summer, but we didn’t give any thought to the “ring money”. Maybe we still haven’t spent that – ha!)

    Looking back, I’m SO GLAD that I didn’t spend a lot of money on a ring when I was a young and broke entrepreneur. In fact, I’m glad I didn’t spend a lot of money on a diamond ring last YEAR. We sure did enjoy that trip to Europe, though. And I sure am glad I married my wife!

    • Hey Matt! Thanks so much for sharing that story! It’s such a great example. =) We also looked at buying a fake stone initially and again when my stone went missing (Still might do that!) In the end, we bought a stone other than a diamond that was about the same price. The created stones can be really lovely. And for people who adore big, shiny gems: a great option. (Plus no blood on those stones!) And a lot less stressful if it falls out!!

      It’s great to hear you are finding ways to spend the money that really adds value to your relationship now. =)

  12. Yes! I totally agree! I already told my 17 year old daughter that when she finds her life partner, they can have our rings. The rings have nothing to do with making a happy marriage or a happy life (not sure I understood that 22 years ago). I figure it will prevent them from spending money and if they decide to sell them at some point, fine by me. My husband and I joke about getting tattoo rings but we would never spend the money…a good tattoo costs too much! LOL! Great post!

    • I think it’s a lesson we grow into. =) We did consider a fake stone when we married and ended up with a different gem stone for the center stone. But at 19, I think I would have been really sad not to have a ring. Now, meh. =) I think it’s an awesome idea to let your daughter use them. Right now I’ve been wearing my great grandmothers set. It’s not my style, and worth about $150 on a good day. But I loved her so much, that if I am going to wear a ring, it’s a good one to wear.

  13. I spent $16k on my wife’s engagement ring. She doesn’t even wear it anymore (I think it doesn’t fit and she’s not bothered to get it resized). Proof that engagement and wedding rings are overrated and the money is far better invested creating family memories 🙂