Healthy eyes are essential—so is vision care.
Even if your eyes appear to be doing well, your annual eye exam is key to preventive care. Diseases affecting vision, like glaucoma and macular degeneration, are much more treatable if caught early. An eye exam can also screen for other conditions where early detection is a lifesaver, like diabetes, blood pressure, and cancer.
Even if you’re visiting your eye doctor yearly, you may need ways to save money on vision care.
Here’s how to save on vision insurance, glasses, contacts, and exams.
Saving on glasses
Keep your old frames
Frames account for about half the price of new glasses. If you need new lenses but your frames are in good condition, you can save fifty percent of the cost by skipping new frames.
Buy generic, rather than name brand, if new frames are necessary.
Buy glasses online from a site with a return policy
Buying online can save lots of cash up front. New glasses can run anywhere from $100 to over $500 (for name brands). Sites like visiondirect.com and zennioptical.com offer great deals—a generic pair of frames and lenses with UV protection and anti-scratch coating could run you under $10. But as with online clothes shopping, there’s always a risk in buying something to wear before trying it on. Make sure you can return the glasses if you need to.
Retailer Warby Parker’s home try-on option lets you order five frames to try for five days (with free shipping). They offer glasses starting at $95, with a return policy in case they don’t fit right.
Research online, buy in person
Better-fitting, long-lasting frames mean no replacement costs—which is why buying glasses in person may actually save you money.
An eye care professional can make measurements, which will guarantee you the best fit. Professionals can also adjust the arm and nose pads on your glasses, a much trickier task when you’re doing it yourself.
Besides, you may not be getting as good a deal as you think online. One study examined 154 consumers who bought glasses from 10 budget eyewear retailers over the Internet. Nearly half the glasses either didn’t meet impact safety standards (they were likely to break if something hit them) or didn’t fulfill the consumer’s prescription correctly.
Your best bet is to go online and research the frames and shapes you’d like, then go into a store (think Lens Crafters) with your prescription and your preferences in mind.
Saving on contacts
Use your prescription wisely
You should definitely go to an eye doctor if you’re using contacts for the first time.
Prescriptions for contact lenses are usually good for one year. If you buy lenses in bulk twice in a year—once right after your eye exam, and once before your prescription expires—you’ll save big on contacts. As long as you have no other vision problems, you can go a full year without an extra eye doctor visit to refill the prescription.
How expensive are contact lenses? Contact costs vary based on your prescription and type of contacts. But as a broad estimate, a box of six disposable soft contact lenses costs between $22 and $26.
Eye doctors usually recommend you replace your contacts every two weeks. That means you’ll be buying ten boxes per year (five for each eye) and spending a total of $220 to $260 annually. Add in contact lens solution—which cleans and disinfects the lenses—at $150 to $200 a year, and you’re looking at an annual cost between $370 and $460 to wear contact lenses.
Fortunately, you can buy good contacts online more easily than you can good glasses. Boxed contact lenses will be the same quality wherever you buy them. Online you’ll save 10-40 percent off the in-store price. Try sites like Allaboutvision.com and 1800contacts.com to get started.
Saving on eye exams
Clarify what treatment you’ll receive
The average exam costs around $60 without insurance. Along with vision tests, procedures like pupil dilation (where the doctor uses eye drops) and retinal photos may be included. See if they come with an extra fee.
Pupil dilation is an essential way for the doctor to see how your eyes work, so don’t skip it. But retinal photos aren’t always necessary if you have no additional health risks.
More procedures may be needed depending on what the doctor finds in preliminary testing. Find out what each procedure does and what it costs.
Here’s what to expect during a typical eye exam.
Watch out for the upsell
The most common way for an eye doctor to “upsell” you is to prescribe a pricey brand of contacts or eyeglass lenses. This may be the doctor’s own brand or a brand they get benefits for promoting, rather than the ideal brand for you.
If the price seems high, request a less expensive or generic version of the prescription.
Saving on vision insurance
See if you have vision coverage already
Some medical insurance plans include vision coverage, and some don’t. Some plans offer the option of vision coverage at a nominal cost (between $3 to $7 a month on average with a group plan from an employer).
Plans purchased through the Affordable Care Act aren’t required to offer vision benefits.
At the minimum, a vision insurance plan should cover eye exams, glasses, and contact lenses.
Look for the best cost/benefit ratio
Let’s say you’re shopping for individual vision coverage (not through an employer). On average, your monthly premium will be between $15-$60 month, depending on the type of plan.
An annual eye exam will average a $10-$15 co-pay, though some plans may require more. A co-pay for glasses may average $25. You’ll get an allotted amount of coverage, usually around $120, for glasses or contacts with a discount on any additional amount you spend.
This can be a good deal if you actually use the vision coverage. If you don’t need glasses or contacts, you may be better off simply paying out of pocket for one eye exam a year.
If you do need glasses, use this formula to estimate your vision costs with insurance:
Monthly Premium x 12 + $15 Exam co-pay + $25 Glasses co-pay = minimum annual vision care costs
Plan comparison shopping becomes extra important if you know you’ll need additional eye treatment during the coverage period, such as laser eye surgery or treatment for eye diseases like cataracts or retinal detachment.
A comprehensive plan will help defray costs of corrective eye care, but not all vision plans will extend coverage beyond the basics. VSP and Humana are two common vision care providers offering a range of options.
Consider a discount plan
With a discount plan, you sign up for a membership (often, signing up is inexpensive or free). Then you’re eligible for discounts—anywhere from 10 percent to 60 percent—on vision products and eye exams through participating providers. It can be an easy way to save without investing in insurance.
Saving on vision care can take some work, but with online options and the right insurance, taking care of your eyes doesn’t have to break the bank.