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For those in a committed long-term relationship, there comes a time when you begin to think about marriage. Maybe that time comes when you look over at your partner one day and you just know that you want to spend the rest of your life with that person. Or it comes when you realize that you enjoy spending as much time with your significant other as possible and you want to continue doing so for the rest of your lives. The moment that you decide to pop the question is the biggest step you’ll make in your relationship and as such it should be taken seriously. But not too seriously—after all, getting married is supposed to be a joyous occasion!

Once you decide to get married, the next decision you’ll have to make is as crucial. That next step is choosing the perfect engagement ring for your perfect partner. Of course, finding the right ring won’t be easy, particularly if you put in the proper amount of time and effort. Picking a ring that you can afford and that your fiancée-to-be will love should be at least a little bit difficult, given that it’s a lifelong investment in your love. But we can help make the process less stressful by giving you some guidelines to follow in selecting the right engagement ring.

1. Know your budgetary limits.

The first thing to keep in mind is that the engagement ring you purchase will cost you a fair amount. The question is how much are you able and/or willing to spend? You’ve probably heard the old adage that an engagement ring should cost you about two months’ salary, but keep in mind that this idea was invented by a diamond company (De Beers) looking to sell its product. Therefore, you shouldn’t feel obligated to live by this “rule” and should instead aim to give a partner a ring you know he or she will love.

Setting a budget and sticking to it may not sound like much fun. But if you think about it, it’s perfect practice for your upcoming marriage. After all, married couples draw up budgets all the time to make sure that their financial priorities are in order. Also, the savings you gain from buying a less expensive engagement ring can go towards the wedding itself, a honeymoon or even a new home.

2. Know how much rings cost.

Once you’ve established how much you’re able to spend, the next step is finding an engagement ring that fits within that predetermined budget. This is where some preliminary online research comes in handy. We recommend doing your “window shopping” online primarily for the convenience factor of having multiple jewelry store options at your disposal. This process will also help you generate more specific ideas about the kinds of engagement ring options that are available and the stores in your area that offer them at prices that fit your budget.

One point to consider, however: online prices for jewelry often differ from in-store prices. In fact, the markup online price for an item may be higher than it would be at the jewelry store itself. Another reason to show up in person to inspect a ring is the fact that it may not resemble the photos you saw online. Generally speaking, buying an engagement ring—particularly a diamond engagement ring—sight unseen can be a bit risky. So do a shopping comparison to make sure you’re getting the right ring at the right cost.

3. Know your partner’s tastes.

This last point may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how often many would-be-fiancées forget it. It can be tempting to be romantic and spontaneous. We certainly wouldn’t want to totally discourage you from doing so. With that said, deciding to commit to the man or woman of your dreams should involve a good deal of thought and planning as well.

Along with setting a budget and doing your research, you should also give a good deal of digging into your partner’s wants. This should be relatively easy, given that you (presumably) already know a good deal about what your boyfriend or girlfriend likes. But if you’re still stuck for ideas, don’t be afraid to discuss the matter with trusted friends and loved ones. Also, be sure to investigate the 4C’s of diamond grading so that you can ask diamond grading experts about the various diamond types that can be set on an engagement ring.

Best of luck selecting your engagement ring and best of luck on your upcoming nuptials!