When it comes to eyeglasses, weigh your options

It has always seemed to me that there are certain expenses that, although not completely unexpected, still manage to throw me into a state of immediate financial concern. The cost of glasses is among these expenses, especially considering the dismal or non-existent vision insurance I’ve had over the year and knowing how easy it is to spend $400 on a pretty normal pair of glasses. On one hand, $400 is a whole lot of money; on the other hand, there is no negotiating the fact that I absolutely require glasses — after all $400 isn’t a lot to spend if the alternative is not being able to see.

And for years, those were the choices: spend a bunch of money on glasses or don’t see. Not too hard to make a choice, even if that means that there is no money to fix the car or go to the dentist. What’s more, most everybody with a job used to have a decent insurance plan. Today, however, those lucky enough to have any insurance find that their insurance covers an embarrassingly small amount of the cost of glasses.

Today, however, the paradigm for purchasing prescription eyewear has changed. There are many more options and certainly the potential to save quite a bit a money. Where there used to be a few places in town that sold glasses for about the same price, today, there are dozens of websites selling prescription glasses for about 1/4 of what anything costs at Lenscrafters, Pearle Vision, or even Target and Sam’s Club.

Okay, let’s back up for a second. Prescription glasses aren’t books or coffee pots. Your vision and eye health, or that of your childrens’, is not some commodity that includes free shipping when you spend $25 or more. What this means is that you still have to get your eyes examined, and it really ought to have been in the last twelve months. If you have vision insurance, most plans cover one eye exam a year for a small co-pay. If you don’t have vision insurance, call around until you find an exam that you can afford.

So here’s the awkward part. You want to get your eyes checked, but you don’t want to be sold a pair of glasses. For years, opticians doubled as peddlers of eyeglasses. Today, that is no longer ther role of the optometrist. In fact, the FTC has ruled that eye doctors are required to provide you a copy of your prescription at the end of your exam. Good optometrists do this as a matter of course – I recommend mentioning asking on the phone if they provide a prescription at the end of your exam. And once your there, make sure they check your pupillary distance, or PD. Because this number — required to make glasses — never changes, optometrists do not necessarily measure it as a matter of course.

Once you get your prescription, you’ll find that most of the online eyewear places offer complete glasses for less than $100. Prices vary depending on the thickness of the lens, the coatings needed, etc. Although these are generic, no-brand frames, the quality of the glasses is typically quite good.

If you’ve found a pair of glasses at the eye doctor or the mall that you just love, ask for a complete quote, including any discounts for insurance. After noting the frame, you can visit one of several websites offering the same major-name frames that you find at the mall. I found, for example, that the exact same pair of Versace glasses cost about $500 at Pearle Vision compared with $250 online.

When it’s time for a new pair of glasses, realize that you have options and try to take advantage of the choices available to you. Get your eyes checked, check out a few websites, and get yourself the glasses you’ve always wanted.

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