If you took a survey of young adults to find out what they consider to be the most traditional aspects of an engagement and wedding, diamond engagement rings are sure to be near the top of the list. Interestingly enough, the diamond engagement ring is a fairly new trend—while betrothal rings existed in some form for the past several centuries, it wasn’t until the 1930s that diamonds became synonymous with romance, thanks to an advertising blitz from the De Beers diamond company. After a copywriter penned the now-famous line “A diamond is forever” in 1947, the image of a diamond engagement band was permanently etched in the minds of courting couples across America, and over the next few decades the ring became a traditional element in an engagement.

Diamond Engagement RingsToday, more than 80% of American brides will receive diamond engagement rings, with their beaus typically shelling out around two months’ salary for the bauble. That’s a lot of bling, and it can be intimidating to head to the jewelry store without having a general idea of what you want to buy. On top of the uncertainty over settings, cuts and other keywords that might sound completely foreign, there’s always the worry that a ring won’t be big enough, flashy enough, or unique enough—after all, when everyone is sporting a diamond engagement ring, you want the one you choose to stand out from the crowd! Luckily, there are several things that can help you narrow the field of potential rings and find the one that will give you the best value for your money while also looking beautiful.

First, you need to know that the salary benchmark is just a guide. The average engagement ring costs around $3,200, but diamond engagement rings run from the very frugal to the very expensive based on a number of factors including carat, cut, color, and weight. More important than the amount spent on the ring is whether you truly love it, so don’t rule out less expensive rings based on the notion that they’re somehow inferior. You might find a style you really love at a lower price point, as the weight and number of diamonds used can vary simply based on the style of the ring.

The average diamond engagement ring features a third or a half carat, though fancier rings may boast a full or half carat. It’s important to remember that two diamond engagement rings may boast equally sized diamonds yet differ in price due to the weight of the diamond itself; a well-cut diamond will be full of sparkle and brilliance but may weigh less and so cost less, while a deeply cut diamond can actually appear smaller, despite being heavier and therefore costlier. Diamonds that are cut very shallow may be less expensive but can also appear very dark and will not have as much sparkle.

Clarity is another important factor in determining the cost of a diamond engagement ring. Almost all diamonds possess minor flaws that are not visible to the naked eye, so you shouldn’t focus on finding a flawless gemstone. You jeweler can show you multiple diamond pieces with differing levels of feathering or other flaws; typically if a diamond is referred to as “eye clean” it means that these flaws cannot be seen without the aid of a microscope, and so they may be less expensive, though just as beautiful, as more clear diamonds.

Finally, consider the color of the diamond. We typically think of diamonds as clear or white, but that isn’t always the case. Most “white” diamonds have tints of yellow or brown, though the tiny may not be noticeable to the naked eye or may be softened by placing the diamond in a white gold setting rather than a yellow gold setting. These diamonds tend to be more affordable. Very pure white diamonds are more rare and command a higher price, as do special colored diamonds (such as pink or blue diamonds). Most people find that the average diamond, with a faint tint of yellow, is suitable for their needs and provides the best combination of beauty and affordability. Selecting a round cut will help hide any flaws in the tinting.

Finally, remember that ring size and hand size are important factors when selecting a diamond—large diamonds can look mismatched with delicate bands or overwhelm small hands, and then you must also consider the practical aspect of wearing a too-large diamond on a daily basis while trying to work, complete household tasks, etc. You might go into the jewelry store with a certain size or style of diamond in mind and leave with something entirely different once you see how the ring looks and feels in real life.

With these tips you’ll be prepared to visit the jewelry store and pick out a diamond engagement ring that you’ll cherish for years to come!