Don’t Let Buying Eye Wear Rob You Blind – Smart Ways To Save Money On Eye Care

Eyeglasses and/or contacts are a necessity for most of us — a necessity that can be quite expensive. It doesn’t have to be that way. With a bit of research and time, there are plenty of ways to cut the costs associated with eye care. Here are some tips for keeping your vision care costs down.

Don’t assume that national chains or mall stores are cheaper: The most expensive eye experience I ever had was with Lens Crafters. The cost of my exam, contacts, and glasses exceeded $600 (by contrast, I could have gotten the same thing at Costco for closer to $300). I have also heard that Pearle Vision is expensive, though I haven’t used them myself. Though you might expect an eye shop in a mall to be less pricey than an eye doctor who has a private practice, mall shops can be just as, if not more, expensive.

However, sometimes national chains can bring you major savings on eye care. If you have a Costco with an optical center in your area, the cost of joining Costco (about $50/yr.) will be more than offset by the money you’ll save on eye exams, glasses, and contacts. My last eye exam at Costco was $45, with optional additional fees for things like having my eyes dilated or photographed. Most eye doctors don’t give you any options on what services they include in your exam, and the default seems to be the most thorough and most expensive exam possible. A thorough exam is good for your eyes, of course, but for many people these high costs prevent them from visiting the eye doctor at all. Having the option of a less thorough but more affordable exam helps more people keep their eyes healthy. Even if you choose all of Costco’s services, your total exam bill will only be $75.

Do a time vs. money analysis before going with the cheapest option: Costco may be one of the cheapest options out there, but you may also end up spending an above-average amount of time waiting . . . and waiting . . . and waiting. Depending on your situation, you might be better off visiting a private eye doctor and/or optical shop. If you need your glasses in time for an upcoming trip, for example, you might want to get them made at a one-hour place. Even if Costco promises to have your glasses back in two weeks and your trip isn’t for three weeks, if the glasses come back and the prescription is too strong or too weak, you’ll have to get them redone and there won’t be enough time to get them back by the date you need them. Costco will re-do your glasses for free if the prescription ends up not suiting you, but it can be a real hassle because the turnaround time is two weeks and there is almost no way to speed up that timeline. Costco’s eye doctors are considered independent from Costco’s labs, so if the eye doctor makes a mistake with your prescription, the store won’t put a rush on your glasses re-do order. They’ll only put in a rush order if it’s their lab that made the mistake.

Buy your glasses online: This option can save you a ton of money, though it’s not for the even remotely image conscious (how many frames did you have to try on last time before you found a pair that didn’t look utterly ridiculous, let alone good?). EyeGlassDirect, Zenni Optical, Goggles 4 U and 39 Dollar Glasses are some of the most popular sites for getting glasses made. Some of these discount eyeglass websites even include in their low prices (or charge a very low fee for) things that other stores make you pay a lot of extra money for, like anti-glare or scratch-resistant lens coatings, sunglasses tinting, and thinner lenses.

Many sites also give you the option of mailing in your existing frames, which avoids the whole “will they look good on me?” problem. You could even go to a store, pick out frames you like, and just get the lenses made online.

One excellent use of online glasses stores even for someone who has a hard time finding frames she likes would be for prescription sunglasses. Personally, I don’t wear my glasses enough during the day to justify the expense of $90+ prescription sunglasses from a brick and mortar store, but if I could get them cheaply online, even if they didn’t look perfect, at least I wouldn’t be blinded by sunlight on days when I had to wear my glasses. Again, I could send in a pair of old frames that I already like and get the sunglasses made from those. You can find more online glasses sites (with reviews, commentary, and even discount codes) at Glassy Eyes.

If you wear contacts, don’t wear daily disposable lenses if you can avoid it: If you’re wearing daily disposables because your eyes won’t tolerate anything else, great, but if you’re wearing them for the convenience of not having to clean your contacts, you may be spending a lot of extra money just to avoid a task that takes no more than sixty seconds a day. Also, the extra contacts probably cost more than the cleaning supplies you’ll need for reusable lenses. These days, there are contacts that you can wear for a day, a week, a month, two months, or more. The options are such that you can retain some of the flexibility of disposable contacts (like having extra pairs around for emergencies) while achieving some of the savings of longer-wearing lenses.

Use saline instead of eye drops: If you find yourself needing to moisten your eyes during the day, keep a travel-sized bottle of saline at your desk and use that instead. Basic moistening eye drops are incredibly expensive per ounce compared to saline, and both products accomplish the exact same thing. Travel products are a rip-off per ounce, too, but they’re still less expensive than eye drops, and you can easily refill that travel bottle with less expensive saline.

Forego contacts: People with contacts still need to have glasses, but people who only wear glasses don’t need to buy contacts. Guess which is cheaper? Even with the possible added expense of prescription sunglasses for those who choose to avoid contacts, the fact that glasses can last much longer than any pair of contacts can result in significant savings.

Keep your most recent pair of old glasses when you get new ones: This way, if you need a spare for any reason, you already have one. They may not be as stylish or effective, but they don’t cost you any extra, and they’ll be better than nothing in a pinch. For glasses that are too old to do you any good, look for charity donation options in your area. I’ve seen bins at optical stores and grocery stores for this purpose.

Open a health savings account (HSA): Using a health savings account to pay for your eye care expenses means that you’re using pre-tax dollars, which can stretch your paycheck quite a bit further. Keep in mind that HSA’s must be used in conjunction with high deductible health plans, which means that they aren’t the best money-saving option for everyone. You can learn more about HSA’s here.

Don’t expect laser surgery to save you money in the long run: If you have this procedure done, all those ongoing glasses, contacts, and contact supply expenses disappear, saving you a ton of money, right? The checkup expenses won’t go away, though — you’ll still want to visit your eye doctor regularly to make sure your eyes are healthy, just as you’d visit any other doctor regularly to catch and potential problems before they’ve had a chance to get serious. And of course, the surgery is so expensive that, unless your insurance is covering it, you really won’t save any money in long run. On the other hand, if your insurance is covering it, this option could save you a few bucks.

Know when to skimp and when not to: For years, I “cleaned” my contacts by storing them in a case in saline (which is really just soaking your contacts, not cleaning them at all). My eye doctor was horrified when I told him. “How often do you clean that case?” he asked. Realizing that I washed my car more often than I washed my contact case (and the ramifications of a dirty car are far less severe than the ramifications of putting dirt and bacteria in your eyes), I switched to Clear Care (no affiliation or endorsement implied), which is a more expensive solution than saline ($9 – $11 per bottle) and puts your contacts out of commission during the six hour cleaning process, but, unlike saline, really cleans your lenses by fizzing up and removing all the protein, bacteria, and other debris that your contacts accumulate throughout the day. It also helps my two month disposable lenses last for about four months since they get really clean each night and feel comfortable to wear for longer. Though I may spend more on contact solution than I used to, I spend less on contacts, which is a greater savings.

Taking proper care of your eyes has bigger implications than the cost of contact solution or even the cost of contacts, of course. The health of your eyes, and consequently your ability to earn a living and continue living your life as you know it, is what’s really at stake. Like most precautionary measures, I will probably never know if using a better contact cleaning method saved me from terrible eye infections or even blindness, but then, that’s not the kind of thing I want to learn the hard way.

I still save money on contact supplies by purchasing Target’s house brand of saline for $2 a bottle (for those times when I need to rinse my contacts midday or take them out for just a couple of hours). Costco actually has free saline at their optical centers, but dispensing saline from their gigantic jug that’s kept out in the open where kids can run their grubby fingers all over it doesn’t seem very sanitary or safe to me.

Though managing your eyesight can be expensive, there are ways to decrease your costs. Don’t neglect your eyes in the name of saving money — use these tips to keep eye care affordable and your eyes healthy.

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12 Responses to Don’t Let Buying Eye Wear Rob You Blind – Smart Ways To Save Money On Eye Care

  1. gloria says:

    This post was most timely. I’m in need of a new pair of glasses and the information will be of great help. Thanks for the information.

  2. Kim says:

    You mentioned using an HSA, which I have but is not valid for use on dental or eye care. I have to use my Flexsaver account for that…not sure if that is true for all HSA accounts, though

  3. Amy F. says:

    It is my understanding that what you can and can’t use your HSA for is based on IRS rules, and thus no matter what bank you have the actual HSA account at or what high deductible health plan you use, certain expenses will always be allowable and other will always not be allowable for payment from your HSA account. Perhaps you have a different type of account, such as an MSA, FSA, or HRA, or are confusing the rules of an HSA with the things that are covered by your health insurance? See
    for a list of expenses that are and aren’t covered–eye care is covered. You can also consult IRS Publication 969 (go to and do a search) for HSA rules.

  4. Teri says:

    Agreed – as far as I knew, HSAs covered all allowable medical expenses (allowed by IRS) – which would include dental and glasses.

    Thanks for the info. Never thought about buying glasses online. I could use new glasses but couldn’t justify the expense all the same – so thanks for the info.

    I definitely have my last pair laying around for the day which inevitably will come, when the kids break my glasses. Surprised it hasn’t happened yet, but I am prepared. 😉

  5. Cindy says:

    I have been very satisfied with Zenni Optical on line, having ordered from them 3 times now. I first got an eye exam at Walmart (yes, Walmart, the docs there are as competent as the higher-priced places, and I do have a more complicated prescription and wear bifocals). Then I discovered Zenni on line and took a chance. It’s not a difficult process and the service is great. The frames are the same as I’ve paid much more for in the past. The prices are terrific, and they do have marked-down frames. Lately, my old faithful prescription sunglasses broke and I when I saw a sale at Zenni on some frames for $8.97, I ordered a pair of sunglasses also.

    After years of wearing contacts, my eyes feel much healthier now that I no longer wear them and with cheaper prices at places like Zenni, you could afford to have a small wardrobe of neat-looking eyeglasses. I never considered the laser surgery after my sister-in-law had this done and said you had to go back for “tune-ups.” I notice she is back to wearing eyeglasses again these days, so I figure I’m saving a bundle.

  6. Becca says:

    Great post! I might add, I always buy my contacts online at visiondirect and use online coupon codes. I get a box sometimes for 15.00…with shipping!

    Thanks for the tips on cleaning solution and buying glasses online as well.

  7. Bill says:

    Just got back from Costco’s eye lab and after 45 minutes of waiting and waiting, I gave up!
    So, guess I’ll go to my old eye doctor…

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  9. mike says:

    I’m so glad AMY is endorsing extending contacts beyond their FDA approved and doctor recommendations so others too can risk losing their eyesight. It’s amazing what chances people take when it comes to their vision and trying to save a buck by getting inferior products either online or in a impersonal big box store. So next time you cheapskates go running to your private doc to fix problems with eye health or repair your cheap glasses, don’t complain when the expensive bill comes.

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  11. Rachel S. says:

    Watch out for Costco–you get what you pay for, plus damage. I got my lenses replaced there, and the frames needed to be adjusted once they got back from the lab. Not a big deal and expected. However the first saleswoman they had help me automatically bent the frames (“boxed off” in her words) back to being perfectly symmetrical, in line with what she thought frames should be. Any professional or seasoned eyeglass wearer knows that most people’s faces are not symmetrical, and the frames don’t necessarily need to sit square on the table. The second woman, who came in because the first couldn’t adjust them, slammed and twisted my frames after seeing them for about 0.2 seconds on my face (metal Fendi 662’s, not purchased at Costco) so that they’re irrevocably damanged. She later became defensive “I’ve been here just as long as Marilyn” when I told her to stop adjusting them. “It’s metal, they can be bent back” she said. Have you ever tried to bend back a paper clip that you’ve pulled apart? The metal frames are now wavy and utterly destroyed, and her “fix” was the worst–completely warped and squeezing the sides of my face. I almost cried at the counter after seeing them. The first saleswoman told me to come back to see the manager tomorrow. This is the biggest display of incompetence I have seen in my 12 years of wearing glasses. Now, I’ll need to wait probably a month to get new glasses as the lab really does take 2 weeks, so I won’t have them when I return to college. Don’t go to

  12. john says:

    Stay away from Their follow-through, communication and customer service is terrible. Their customer service reps don’t know what they are talking about, either. My glasses took more than a month to deliver, and I was promised “next day” delivery at least four different times. There are more reputible places to deal with on-line than 39 dollar

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