For the average guy, popping the question is hard enough. You worry about whether you'll sweat too much, your voice will crack, or your special occasion tux pants from the junior prom will split when you get down on one knee... There are a million things to worry about when plotting the big proposal. The ring shouldn't have to be one of them.

But for many non-metrosexual men out there, to whom jewelry is a foreign concept in the first place, buying the ring is one of the hardest parts. Like, what's the difference between an engagement ring and a wedding ring? And when do you buy each ring? How much should you spend on a ring? And how do you know which ring is better than another ring?

With all these questions swirling around, buying a ring can seem really confusing, so here's a few pointers on the particulars of engagement rings, wedding rings and ring buying in general. And don't forget to consult friends and married groomsmen for advice - they've done it before, so they'll be glad to help you out, just promise great groomsmen gifts in exchange.

The engagement ring and the wedding ring are two different rings. Pre-proposal, the groom is only technically responsible for buying the engagement ring. This one is the big, sparkly salary-busting rock that is supposed to make her scream "I do!" so spare no expense when picking the perfect diamond engagement ring.

We recommend most grooms just stop there in terms of solo jewelry shopping. Though one-stop shopping is tempting, and there are bridal sets out there that include an engagement ring and matching wedding band, we do not recommend this course of action. For one thing, bridal sets are not like Big Mac Value Meals. There's usually no discount for buying the combo, so it's just as well to wait and go ring shopping with your bride, rather than risk buying two rings when she hasn't even said yes to one.

Plus, it is our experience that most women dream of ring shopping for wedding bands since they are little girls, so why deprive them of the experience? This trip is also a good chance for the bride to have her engagement ring sized, and ahem, re-selected if your particular rock wasn't exactly to her liking. If she does exchange it, don't take it personally. The engagement ring is being evaluated as a gesture on the groom's part, not for the jewelry itself, so as long as she says yes to the gesture (your proposal) it's her prerogative to amend the jewelry to her liking.

Nevertheless, you are obligated to give engagement ring shopping the old college try (the whole gesture thing again). So in order to get an A for effort at least, here are some tips for buying the perfect engagement ring.

Bring a friend. Not yours, hers. A girl's best friend is an invaluable ally when facing the puzzling world of platinum and pear shapes. Chances are, your fiance has already had countless conversations with her friends about what kind of engagement and wedding ring she wants, maybe even flipping through magazines or pointing rings out in store windows. Trust us, you may be clueless as to what your lady might like in terms of jewelry, but if you innocently go for the oval diamond, rest assured her best friend will be right there, protesting emphatically "No, no Patricia's much more of a Princess cut." The mystery of these words needn't matter to you at this point. All that counts is that you are buying the perfect engagement ring for the love of your life.

Snoop. This is a risky one, but could help you hit the jewelry jackpot. Many women keep their secret wedding wishes filed away in a journal, memory box, or desk drawer, so some (cautious) pawing around in your lady's personals could give you clues to her jewelry preferences. To avoid being too invasive, just shake her journal to see if any pictures or clippings fall out, and thumb through drawers to see if any ring-like depictions catch your eye. We know it's a bit invasive, but imagine flipping through her diary and coming to a page labeled "My dream wedding ring" with a corresponding magazine clipping detailing the price, location, and diamond details. Bingo! You get to sneak off, buy her dream engagement ring, shock your fiance with your taste and style, and convince her once and for all that you two are totally perfect for each other!

Size matters. The stealthy acts continue with your attempts to secure her ring size. This can call for some serious James Bond type maneuvers, but they will only add to the clandestine pleasure of the ring-buying mission. Some tried-and-true capers include filching one of her other rings and indenting it's shape into a bar of soap, or tracing the shape of the ring onto a piece of paper to bring to the jeweler. Another method is to push the ring down on your own finger and make a dot with a pen where it lands on your own hand. These stealthy acts will have a big payoff when you deliver your fiance's perfectly sized ring. Nothing kills the proposal buzz quicker than an awkward ring finger tug-of-war.

Haggle. Of course one obstacle on a potential groom's mind when buying an engagement ring is the price - after all, hopefully you'll need to save money for the wedding and groomsmen gifts. Buying a quality engagement ring is a costly and significant investment, and needs to be carefully considered. But if you're sure she's the one, rest assured, most modern brides don't require the old 'two month's salary on a ring' rule. If you have that kind of cash stashed, go for it, but if you don't, it is possible to get quality jewelry at a more reasonable price. One way to do this is haggle. It can be intimidating going into a fancy jewelry store, but remember, jewelry salesman are just like drug dealers, but with diamonds. They're out to make a profit, they know making some money is better than making no money, and they're willing to cut you a deal if you look like you got street cred. But even if you don't, you can fake it. Throw around words like "color, cut, clarity and carat" and you'll be in the inner circle in no time. In the jewelry world, the sticker price is just the starting off point for negotiations; so don't be intimidated to haggle for a lower price. This isn't being a cheapskate, its just being a good businessman, and surely your drug-we mean diamond- dealer, will understand that.

Do a background check. All diamonds are not created equal, and neither are all jewelry stores. To avoid getting hustled, go to a trusted family jeweler, or someone recommended by a friend. If you have no such connections, just make sure the store you buy from is accredited by the Jewelers of America or the American Gem society. Otherwise, the local Chamber of Commerce or Better Business Bureau may have pertinent data about the jewelry store in question.

Go with your gut. Research aside, if the jeweler seems like a sleaze ball, take your business elsewhere. The jeweler's attitude toward the staff, the customer service quality, and the company's return, repair and replacement conditions are all things to look for when deciding whether to shop at a particular store. If you're still unsure about a certain ring, reserve the right to get an independent appraiser's opinion. Any bona fide jewelry store should have no problem with that.

Making the grade. For high quality diamonds (one carat and larger) you should receive a diamond-grading report. This report will include all the details of the diamond, from the four C's, to the ring's designer, to whether it was handcrafted or custom made, anything that affects the quality of the ring. This report is a certificate of authenticity and worth, and is as important as a show puppy's pedigree papers.

Now that you have memorized these ring buying pointers, there's nothing left to do but conquer your fears and start shopping! Remember, your fiance has no doubt put herself out for you on many occasions, venturing into the world of car parts, sporting equipment, and possibly even electronic gadgets in order to make you the devoted man that you are today. Do your part by purchasing her the best diamond ring you possibly can, knowing it will all be worth it when you open that box and make her the happiest woman on earth!

Some info taken from and