Diamonds Are a Marriage Counselor’s Best Friend (Ep. 203)

Listen now:
Jason and Kristen Sarata at the charity event where they won a diamond valued at $7,500.

Jason and Kristen Sarata at the charity event where they won a diamond valued at $7,500.

Our latest Freakonomics Radio episode is called “Diamonds Are a Marriage Counselor’s Best Friend.” (You can subscribe to the podcast at iTunes or elsewhere, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. You can also read the transcript, which includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.) The gist of the episode: It may seem like winning a valuable diamond is an unalloyed victory. It’s not. It’s not even clear that a diamond is so valuable.

Imagine for a moment that you and your significant other went to a charity auction, where you spent $100 to buy four raffle tickets to win a loose diamond valued at $7,500. And then you won. Congratulations! What happens now? Do you have the diamond set in a ring and wear it? Do you sell the diamond and use the money for more pressing needs? Or do you and your significant other squabble endlessly over what should be done about the diamond, and wind up sticking it on a shelf in the laundry room?

Kristen Sarata with the troublesome diamond.

Kristen Sarata with the troublesome diamond.

You’ll hear the answer in this podcast, which features a Michigan couple named Kristen and Jason Sarata. She’s a nurse; he’s a paramedic who’s also studying to become a financial adviser. They get along pretty well but when it comes to household finances, they aren’t always on the same page. It all comes down to “needs” versus “wants.” As you can imagine, a $7,500 diamond isn’t necessarily so easy to categorize. As Jason puts it: “We both did at one time say ‘I wish we never would have won it.’”

Along the way, you’ll learn about the diamond industry itself — that is, how a rare stone became much less so but how its producers constrained supply to keep prices high. (Our guide to this is the estimable Edward Jay Epstein). You’ll also hear how hard it is to resell a diamond for anywhere near its estimated value — and what the Saratas are doing to try to beat the odds.

Photo of the diamond won by the Sarata family at a charity event. (Photo: Kristen Sarata)

Even Jason admits: “It’s a princess cut, one carat, and it’s really nice. A beautiful diamond.”

We also talk about the theatrical concept known as Chekhov’s Gun: “You mustn’t put a loaded rifle on stage if no one intends to fire it. You shouldn’t make promises.” The Chevhov scholar Laura Strausfeld describes how a diamond in a marriage can act like a gun on a stage:



STRAUSFELD: The use of Chekhov’s Gun implies a certain number of things, for example, that there’s something inherently dangerous. Someone will get hurt.

You’ll also hear an inspired reading of Chekhov by Robert Krulwich of Radiolab. Spasiba bolshoya, Robert!


I got about halfway through this episode when I decided I didn't care, and the husband was right. Sell the diamond, use the money for something useful. So I skipped the rest of the episode.


It seemed strange that there was not at least a passing reference to the tax obligation the raffle winning created. This would not have been an insignificant consideration in the decision of whether to sell or not.


Wydok, you missed the interesting part then...

Ken Music

What was the advice about the diamond????? Listening on Stitcher and just as the guy was going to tell them what to do with it, the music came on louder and then you never hear what he says. It comes back later on when they are in the ending of the advice. Is there a corrected stream?



Interesting podcast. I would have liked further discussion into the effects that artificial/man-made diamonds will have on the diamond market. I think the whatever value diamonds have will be even further diminished.


I dunno. If you consider purely aesthetic values - that is, sparkly rocks - cubic zirconia is pretty much indistinguishable from diamond, at a fraction of the price. Yet diamonds still seem to keep their (already artificially high) 'value'.


The couple articulated their story well with a great sense of humor blended in. Yes they included the tension it caused at first but they worked through it and settled on an outcome that will benefit a great charity and them. Well done!


All the way through the podcast I was thinking: OMG now the whole world knows that these two have a $7500 diamond in their laundry room! Glad to hear it got moved.

@Ken, the advice was to auction the diamond. Which they are on ebay. And giving half of proceeds back to the original charity.


The husband sounds like a bit of a control freak – sometimes it is best to simply accommodate your spouse's crazy ideas. However, this is obvious: sell the diamond. If they had won $5,000 in cash, would she have wanted to use the money to buy a diamond? I bet not.

Doug P

Ugh. So now the sale price of this diamond on eBay is going to be about the value of freakanomics, not the diamond itself.


Considering a good chunk of the podcast was devoted to devaluing it, it's the least Freakonomics could do! Plus, many artifacts are only percieved as valuable because of a history (previous owners, bloodshed, etc) — this allows the buyer to become part of a story that has been broadcast around the world.


So true. Had we won $5000, I definitely would not have wanted a diamond with it. Nor did I want one when we married 12 years ago; I am still incredibly pleased with the modest band I am wearing on my ring finger--that I picked out.
Ultimately, this wasn't about owning a diamond for me; it was about our completely different views on money and possessions, and me just wanting my way and seeing if he would give it to me. It took reflection for me to realize I was running on emotion and not logic.
This podcast was incredibly fun and surprising for us. I can't be more pleased with the outcome. I think both Jason and I, as well as the charity, will equally benefit from this experience. Thank you for your comments


To me you came off as a sweet and sincere person, who was in the right. The point is, you didn't buy it. You won it. It would have been at no cost to Jason to let you enjoy something that could have brought you happiness. Sure, he has a want/need fixation, but what about your needs? It seems in your every day life you both are ruled by this "logic." The truth is no matter how you break down the value of anything on the opposite side of that, and what give it its true value is emotional, it is what you (and the collective) feel it is worth. Do not discredit your position in the least. When it comes to a marriage, you're right to have emotions. Love and marriage is where you derive your emotional support. I hope you find this note and know there was a stranger out there who heard this podcast and sympathized with your position. You should always have a voice. Don't for a second, think that yours is any less valid than your counterpart. Emotion is the counterpart of logic and one is not greater than the other. A partner meets their partners needs and wants. I hope Jason, too, has some realization of how he comes off and understands the value of happiness, like a diamond, is not just monetary. I wish you noting but the best, sweetheart... Take care.



While the husband clearly seems a bit miserly and controlling (the lightbulbs are a bit much), I think he's definitely right about selling the diamond. Such artificial value. If you wouldn't spend the money on the item in the first place, if it lands in your lap, liquidate it. Stories like this make me appreciate my wife so much. And since my wife is financially conscientious, it makes me feel more like splurging on things that she'll enjoy because I know she won't go around making absolutely silly purchases.

Perhaps if Jason weren't so tightfisted to the extreme, Kristen wouldn't be so desperately to hold on to anything nice she gets. That still doesn't justify holding on to a silly diamond.


IMO, it's not about the value of the diamond, but what it would symbolize to Kristen. It's about giving your wife something that would bring her joy, and taking pleasure in her joy, regardless of what YOU might want to do with the object, or what is logical or practical or most "useful". I wonder how much Kristen's feelings of being loved and appreciated are worth to you, Jason. Especially considering she knew what you had wanted to do with it, imagine how she would have felt about you each time she looked down and saw that diamond on her finger. Instead, you got your way yet again, and a couple thousand bucks that will disappear immediately, and she probably feels under-appreciated, despite the feel-good aspect of giving half to charity. And you know what else? Had you offered to let her have it from the beginning, chances are good that she would have reconsidered and suggested to sell it anyway so you could both benefit from it, like by taking that vacation together.

Best wishes to the both of you for many happy years with one another!



This episode made me sad, the husband didn't understand it was never really about the diamond. I hope it works out well for them in the end.


Jason, you should let Kristen decide what to do with the money you guys get after selling the diamond. You got your wish, its Kristen's turn now. It is only fair.


I don't usually associate the word "disheartening" with Freakonomics, but I could barely make it through this episode and the sad story from the married couple. There was so much else going on there (e.g. disfunction, distrust, disrespect) that it was hard to focus on the rational economic message.


Thanks everyone. Jason and I are happy and well. We have hiccups in marriage like many people do, but we are enjoying our adventures as we go along. We will use our share of the money on family things, as well as a trip together to celebrate our 40th this year. Please don't be disheartened; we are most certainly not. Prayers, peace, and health to you all.


Jason here's a bit of logic that will never fail you - happy wife, happy life. Sorry you missed your chance to be a hero in your wife's eyes. That would have been more valuable and paid off greater dividends than any amount of cash.