If you’re reading this there’s a good chance you’re either wearing glasses, contact lenses or some combination.
According to the Vision Council of America, approximately 75% of adults use some sort of vision correction. About 64% of them wear eyeglasses, and about 11% wear contact lenses, either exclusively, or with glasses. Over half of all women and about 42% of men wear glasses.
I bring this topic up because I know it affects a lot of you. Consumer Reports says the average retail price for buying a new pair of glasses now is $220-$240. That can be an expensive visit to your optometrist’s office if you don’t have insurance.
The good new is you don’t have to spend that much, especially not if you only need single-vision lenses. Something I’ve seen a lot of my friends and family do over the years that’s saved them big is buy glasses online.
If you’re hesitant to buy prescription eyewear online, let me dispel some of the myths about the process and lay out exactly what you need to know.
Don’t Let the Bad Apples Ruin the Bunch
In 2017, The New York Times ran a story about a man named Vitaly Borker who ran several cheap online eyeglasses sites including DecorMyEye and OpticsFast.
As far back as 2010, customers of DecorMyEye said they were shipped cheap counterfeits in place of the designer eyeglasses they believed they had purchased. Borker eventually was caught and it landed him four years in jail.
But this story sent a lot of people running for the hills. Don’t let this one bad apple or other tales ruin the savings you could be enjoying. In fact, if you stick to the list of trusted retailers I have below, you’ll be fine.
“How much do I actually save?”
If you’re going to buy your glasses online, you’ll pay one-fourth to one-sixth the usual price with the online sellers versus the traditional retailers. ZenniOptical.com prices start at around $7 for lenses and frames and $5 for shipping. That’s just about the cheapest price out there.
However, what you save in material costs buying direct from China, you lose in customer service apparently. Some Zenni customers have complained the lack of customer support from the online retailer.
In addition to Zenni, there are several other sellers of complete prescription eyeglasses for under $20. (If you wear bifocals or progressives, you can run that bill up to $40.) EyeBuyDirect.com and GlassesShop.com are both good cheap options as well.
What You Need Before Buying Your Glasses Online
You still need a prescription if you’re shopping online, typically your RX should be no more than one year old. The eye exam fee could end up being the bulk of your glasses cost, so it pays to shop around.
First, check your health insurance policy to see if eye exams are covered. Even if you don’t have insurance coverage, you should be able to get an eye exam for around $100. (Note: if you’re buying contacts as well as glasses, your exam will cost a little more.)
Here are few retailers that have reasonably priced eye exams:
- Costco Optical
- Pearle Vision
- Target Optical
- Walmart Vision Centers
Also, your doctor is legally required to give you a copy of your prescription after your exam. One measurement you must have on your script is your pupillary distance (PD), make sure it’s there and if it’s not ask your doctor to add it.
The FTC’s Eyeglass and Contact Lens Rules lays out certain rights and obligations eye doctors have to their customers. Regarding giving out PDs, the rules say the following:
“Many doctors don’t charge for the pupillary distance measurement. If your doctor charges for it, some online sellers will refund the cost.”
If you don’t want to risk paying out of pocket for your PD and not getting reimbursed in the end, check out Goggles4u’s DIY guide to calculating your pupillary distance.
Know Your Frame Measurements
Choosing the right frames involves more than just picking a style you like — you need to find frames that fit your face. The three measurements to know are: lens width, bridge width (the width across your nose), and temple arm length (the length of the arms).
If you own a pair of glasses that fit, start by checking their size. Measurements are usually written inside the frame, listed left to right (lens width, bridge width, temple arm length). You’ll find them printed inside the temple arms or the nose bridge.
Online retailer Warby Parker will actually mail you frames to try on before you buy. And wherever you buy, check their return policy so you know what your options are if your frames don’t fit.
Most sites don’t offer full refunds on returned eyewear with prescription lenses. For example, FramesDirect.com deducts 50% of the lens price from the refund amount for returns within 30 days of purchase. ZenniOptical.com offers a 50% refund or a 100% store credit on all eyewear returned within 30 days of the delivery date. Eyeglasses.com provides a 50% refund on returned lenses.
The Best Places to Buy Cheap Glasses
According to Consumer Reports, these are the top 10 places — both physical and online — to buy eyeglasses:
- Costco Optical
- Any independent eyeglass shop
- Warby Parker
- A private doctor’s office
- Kaiser Permanente
- Opticare Eye Health & Vision Centers
- Sam’s Club Optical
- Walmart Vision Center
39dollarglasses.com is another great option online that came in 12th.
Where Should You Avoid?
Consumer Reports says the three worst places to shop include SVS Vision, America’s Best Contacts & Eyeglasses and GlassesUSA.com.
If you still have cold feet after reading this then here’s one final tip…
Consumer review expert, Clark Howard, who wears progressive lenses says:
“I recommend a safe harbor until you’re comfortable. I want you to pay too much for your first pair buying them the traditional way to satisfy your fears. Then buy a second pair with a cheap online shop. Compare the two to see if the cheaper pair will work for you moving forward.”
To a richer life,
— Nilus Mattive
Editor, The Rich Life Roadmap