I Can See Clearly Now, My Money's Gone

by Jennifer Beam


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Millions of individuals wear corrective lenses, whether for distance or close-up vision correction, and some 35 million Americans are contact lens wearers. Though vision correction is a necessary fact of life for many, if you are one of the millions of corrective lens wearers, you know that it is an expensive fact. While some medical insurance plans cover vision-related expenses, many plans do not and many of the plans offer coverage only on the eye exam itself, not the subsequent purchase of glasses or contacts. Moreover, those who have no coverage or have no health insurance must pay for the entire expense on their own.

There are several factors that impact the cost of corrective lenses. An eye exam comprises the initial cost, but it is minimal compared to the cost of glasses or contacts and even the cost of an exam varies depending on location and whether it includes a contact lens fitting or not. The cost of corrective lenses, glasses or contacts can run several hundred dollars depending on frame selection and type of lens or contact. Because corrective lenses are not a voluntary purchase, but rather a necessary one, many people fail to consider their right to comparison shop, which is a mistake that can make corrective vision more expensive than necessary.

If you have insurance coverage that pays for all or part of an eye exam, you may be required to visit specific providers that accept your insurance before coverage is allowed. By all means, take advantage of this coverage, but do not assume you must also purchase your glasses or contacts from this provider. Eye care providers are required by law to release your prescription upon completion and payment of an eye exam. This allows for greater competition in the eye care industry and it may be cheaper to take your prescription to another source for purchasing glasses or contacts.

Be wary of chain retailers that offer glasses in an hour or even same day service. While this is a convenient service, the overhead of these stores is often higher than smaller independent shops because they stock a greater variety of lenses in order to meet the same day demand. The cost of overhead may be passed on to the consumer. It might surprise you to learn that you could save $50 to $100 or more on the same lenses by waiting a few days while another optician orders your lenses.

Eyeglass frames are a separate purchase from your lenses. Though some chains tout specials on "complete" pairs of glasses, the advertised prices usually do not include anything extra such as scratch coating, impact resistance, UV protectant, or polycarbonate lenses, a special thinner, lighter-weight lens for high-powered prescriptions. Similarly, these advertised specials often do not apply to bi-focals, but rather single vision lenses only.

At almost every retailer, there is a markup on eyeglass frames. The difference in cost of frames will vary widely from retailer to retailer. You always have the option of purchasing only the frames from a discount retailer and then taking them to another optical retailer for purchasing and fitting the lenses. Look for small optical shops that sell discount frames but do not make glasses or offer eye exams. Many retailers have a wide selection of frames for less than the $100.

When ordering contacts, many eye care providers will supply you with a trial pair of contact lenses to determine if the style and fit is both suitable to your eye and comfortable to wear. Often times, a follow up contact lens check is included with a contact lens eye exam. After finding a suitable brand and style of contact lens, you are not bound to purchase additional pairs from your initial provider. Comparison shop the prices of your lenses by calling other retailers and shopping online. Also remember to ask your eye care provider for manufacturer coupons and rebates.

For children in need of corrective lenses, their first pair of eyeglasses should be impact and scratch resistant as well as offer UV protection. Frames should have spring hinges at the arms to minimize breakage. These are all features that will help protect your child's eyes and your investment. However, children are naturally careless, and because they are unaccustomed to wearing glasses, breakage or loss is a very real possibility. Ask retailers whether there is any type of warranty against breakage and if they provide replacement discounts before you make your initial purchase.

When it comes to corrective lenses, remember that just because it is a necessary purchase, it shouldn't be treated any differently than any other purchase. Making smart, informed consumer purchases when it comes to eyeglasses and contact lenses will help ease the financial burden of seeing clearly, which is a right that should be affordable to everyone.


Jennifer is a freelance writer from Ohio who has worn corrective lenses for nearly 30 years. Having assisted with routine school eye exams for a number years, Jennifer would like to remind parents that only a small percentage of vision problems in children are detected by these routine exams. Children should have their eyes examined by an optometrist or medical eye doctor at least every two years from the time they begin school.

Take the Next Step:

  • With a purchase of corrective lenses, be careful to take the appropriate measures to make sure that you're getting the best deal possible. Corrective lenses are expensive, but making smart, informed purchases will ease the financial burden.
  • Consider ordering your contact lenses on line. DiscountContactLenses.com
  • Did you know you can even buy your eyeglasses online? Read Buy Your Next Pair of Glasses Online and then check out the "virtual try on" at FramesDirect.com .

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