Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Don't put off important money talk until marriage
Q: I feel like a shallow moron for asking this ... but, my boyfriend seems to really enjoy surprising me with pricey gifts (which I appreciate but absolutely don't require and never ask for).
We are probably going to get engaged soon, and I know his budget isn't particularly enormous. Is there any nice way I can say to him, "I would really rather have a nice engagement ring, so please save all the money you're spending on all these gratuitous gifts, if that helps"? I don't need either one, but that would be my strong preference, and I would be completely satisfied never to receive another expensive surprise in my life.
Bah, there wasn't even a way to type this question without sounding like a sugar baby, so I'm guessing the answer is a resounding no.
A: I don't know, I'm not reading sugar baby. Since he has limited money to spend, and since you're headed toward making joint financial decisions with him someday, it makes a lot of sense that surprises would suddenly have an icky feeling to them. The money he spends on X is money no longer available for Y, and what if Y isn't an engagement ring but instead a down payment or a nest egg?
And even if he had more money than he could ever spend — i.e., if he could buy X and Y and all the Z you can eat — you're the one expected to wear the jewelry, admire the art, enjoy the trip, etc. A surprise here and there is lovely; a mandate for them is disenfranchising.
The real problem, then, is less that he spends big, and more that he consults you little. Ring issue aside, you need to be comfortable talking about your joint future, and the joint accounts (and accounting) that come with that.
So, set the ring issue aside. Stay away from, "If you're going to spend all this on me, then I'd rather it be on one giant diamond than six little ones," and instead put your own words to this idea: "I'm uncomfortable with big spending that leaves me with no say except at the risk of sounding ungrateful."
Maybe that idea is mine and you just want a nice ring, but I suspect you're on that path. Enough that the size/quality of your engagement ring doesn't even have to come into the conversation (which really might be all my idea, but I can live with that).
For it to be clear that you're intimacy-seeking versus gold-digging, you also need to take care with your timing: Speak up when it's clear you're headed toward a life together and the attendant joint financial decisions — not when you think you're optimizing your chances of an expensive engagement ring.
Also make it clear you've been grateful for everything, grateful that pleasing you is something that makes him happy, and you're not interested in changing him — you're just at a point in your relationship with him that you feel more romance in sharing plans and goals than you do in extravagant surprises.