Jane Bradley: Stuck between a rock and a hard place

Getting engaged at Christmas can present a dilemma if the budget is blown on an expensive ring, says Jane Bradley

Research shows that the typical engagement ring costs £573 - around a third of the £1,794 average monthly take home pay in the UK, and a big outlay at Christmas time. Picture: Getty.
Research shows that the typical engagement ring costs £573 - around a third of the £1,794 average monthly take home pay in the UK, and a big outlay at Christmas time. Picture: Getty.

It is a heart in the mouth moment for any single at Christmas: when that tiny square box wrapped up under the tree turns out to be for you - from your significant other.

But whether the teeny, but oh-so-important gift is a welcome surprise or a nasty shock which sends you running for the bottle of Croft Original, the question remains as to whether an engagement ring should be your only Christmas gift from your partner.

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A colleague at Scotsman Towers is currently in this very predicament. After whisking his lovely girlfriend away on a surprise romantic holiday abroad in late December, he got down on one knee in one of the world’s most beautiful cities and popped the question. Thankfully, she said yes.

Now back in the UK, the pair are planning to do their ring shopping on Christmas Eve, with the rock likely to be the only present she will find under the tree this year.

“I’ll probably get her a card as well,” he muses. “The holiday was expensive and so is the ring, so we’ve decided together that that is what we are going to do.”

The debate has divided the office.

Some people have, quite sweetly I thought, suggested that our colleague’s lucky other half could not receive any better present than lifelong commitment from such a man - while others believe that killing two financial birds with one stone is downright Ebeneezer-esque.

I bet he wishes he’d never mentioned it.

I have to say, my colleague is a generally jovial chap with little resemblance to Scrooge, who should in no way be criticised for his generosity - especially as he remembered to bring us all some chocolates back from his romantic getaway. If he and his fiancée are happy with their decision, then that is what matters. And he seems very happy.

There is no doubt that a traditional engagement ring, never mind a weekend city break, is an expensive outlay for any household budget.

Research carried out earlier this year by insurer Allianz found that the typical engagement ring costs £573 - around a third of the £1,794 average monthly take home pay in the UK.

By contrast, the average amount spent on a normal Christmas present for a partner or spouse is just £100 to £150, according to a recent survey by insurance quote site Bobatoo.

Tiffany Wright, who runs proposal agency The One Romance, believes that an engagement ring could be an acceptable ‘only present’ - but just if the proposal is a surprise on the day itself.

“What could possibly be a better Christmas gift than asking someone to spend the rest of their life with you?” she says, adding that a creative proposal such as wrapping the ring up inside a Christmas bauble with a gift tag saying ‘marry me’, ticks the boxes of both a thoughtful and a luxurious gift.

“Personally, I think an engagement ring with a proposal is enough but I’d always recommend giving it to your partner in a creative way to add to the Christmassy feel.”

But Ms Wright has a very different opinion when it comes to proposals which have already taken place before the big day.

“If you have proposed a week or so before Christmas, don’t just give the ring as a present on Christmas Day,” she warns. “It could be disappointing, as romance and the chance to give a thoughtful Christmas gift shouldn’t suddenly die because you have splashed the cash on a ring.”

Of course, it is a nice thought that we could all be unmaterialistic enough for it not to matter.

Indeed, many believe that Christmas gifts should be more about personal gestures than the monetary value. So, while an engagement ring might well have blown this year’s festive budget, there is arguably nothing to stop someone coming up with a cheap, but thoughtful, present for Christmas Day itself.

One friend tells me the tale of an acquaintance who proposed a week before Christmas, but unbeknownst to his girlfriend, had asked a secret photographer to capture the proposal.

“On Christmas Day he is going to surprise her with a framed photo of the actual proposal,” she explains. “It’s a lovely idea as it’s thoughtful and shows how much he cherished the moment, but cost him almost nothing.”

Others believe that Christmas and marriage should be kept separate.

My friend Paul argues that actually proposing on Christmas Day could spoil the festive period forever if the proposer does not get the answer they are looking for.

“I disagree with the whole thing because it’s a very risky thing to do,” he says. “If she or he says no then they have ruined Christmas for you. Also, I prefer to have the special moment spread out throughout the year rather than bunched together for convenience.”

However, another pal, Rebekah, whose husband popped the question on Christmas Day and who got married a year later on 29 December, enjoys the fact that their celebrations take place all together. The pair, she says, prefer to enjoy time together to mark happy occasions, rather than indulge in piles of presents - and was quite happy to receive only the gift of eternal love for Christmas.

“I was asked on Christmas Day, at a time when we both had bronchitis and tonsillitis and felt awful,” she remembers, fondly. “But I am not big into the presents at Christmas anyway, never have been, it’s about being with people. We didn’t have much money then either at that point.”

My friend Rob disagrees. “I proposed to my wife the day before her 30th birthday but it didn’t absolve me of being able to buy her a present,” he says. “The two things are separate. It’s like folk not buying me a present for my January birthday because they’ve only just bought me one at Christmas.”

In short, it seems that the only way to work out if you’ve got it right is to know your partner. And if you don’t, perhaps an engagement ring isn’t the way forward, no matter what.