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When I turned 25 I suddenly was struggling to see street signs while driving at night time, a canary in the coal mine of my eventual need for glasses. Over the last ten years plus I’ve tried a huge range of glasses: brand names from Lenscrafters, boutique optic shops, Warby Parker, and even glasses from street shops in Asia. My main takeaway is that the whole glasses industry is kind of a scam, all the way from how they are covered by your insurance to the prices of the actual hardware that are dictated by a glasses manufacturing monopoly. This post obviously doesn’t change these things, and even points you towards buying glasses from that monopoly. But hopefully, these tips and ideas will help you save some money!
First, a word on eye insurance. In theory, this would help out with the cost problem but for me almost never has. Generally, I’m paying something like 12 dollars per pay period or something and you get a not-free eye exam and maybe some coverage on glasses. But in my experience, I always end up owing 300-400 dollars. Much like typical medical insurance, I almost never end up ahead. There are some exceptions. For instance, if your work provides you with a flexible spending account and puts money into it, this is free money you could use towards frames but is generally use it or lose it. If you’re also a mess like me you’ll forget about it and then just lose it. Plus, the markup on in-store glasses is so much that frequently this ends up being a wash compared to some creative options.
Here’s what I do first: find a pair of glasses that you like. Go to various stores that carry the brands you like and try them on. Boutique shops are out, as I don’t find the extra price is really worth it. I tend to like Ray Bans as the look is generally neutral yet bold, and compliments my face. (RayBan is owned by Luxottica, which generally makes every pair of glasses you’ve ever heard of! Coach, Prada, Oakley, seriously it’s like all of them.) Try and consider your face shape and if the glasses compliment or exaggerate it, or just generally don’t look good to you immediately. Also, try and find a pair that doesn’t require any adjustments, i.e. they sit on your face evenly, the ear hooks go over your ears in the correct spot, and the glasses aren’t clamping hard on your skull. Now, very importantly, write down or photograph the model number generally found on either a tag or on one of the arms of the frame. Sometimes there are various sizes of the same glasses: for instance you can get RayBan Wayfarers in either 50mm or 54mm widths. We also want something that’s normally expensive, like close to $200 or more so that we are maximizing the value and savings. Now we have some options for the next steps:
- Buy frames and then add lenses after (what I did, but with more effort)
- Buy frames and prescriptions online from one shop (more efficient and I will probably do this in the future)
Here are a couple of caveats:
- You need to know your prescription and should have this checked every couple of years or so depending on your eyes
- If your old glasses are destroyed this isn’t a good option as the process can take a couple of weeks, leaving you without any glasses in the meantime
Which option you pick may depend on the frames you want to get. I was able to find the ones I currently own from some of these shops, whereas for some other brands I could only find particular models on eBay.
Buy frames and add lenses later
The pair of frames that I bought were the following: Ray Ban Rx7159 5750 blue-gray unisex 52mm. I just checked the RayBan website and these retail for $191, and then after adding basic prescription lenses we are at $303.50. There seems to be a sale currently, as the total is normally $416! Now here’s the cool part, I bought these exact frames from Ebay for 87 dollars. Not knockoffs, the EXACT same pair. People who sell glasses for a living will tell you that you’ll get knockoffs if you don’t buy from them and that you can’t trust Ebay, but generally it’s super easy to tell if a seller is legit or not. Generally you want to buy from someone with many reviews (like thousands) to make sure the reviews are real, and scan the reviews to make sure people got what they paid for. Here’s another example: Burberry 2327’s are $253 on Lenscrafter(though sometimes on sale), but $120 on Ebay. One thing to note is that your eye insurance almost definitely will not rebate you any of the cost if using Ebay, so if for some reason you have the best insurance ever, then this might not be worth your while.
Ok, you’ve got your frames, but what about lenses? One is to just go to eye shops with your frames and price shop for lenses. One time I was at a boutique-type place and I was about to walk out after getting pitched on $300 lenses, and then they told me they could get me cheaper ones instead for about 100. But they turned out to be scratch magnets so your mileage may vary. What I prefer is to use a service where you send in your glasses, provide your prescription, and then wait for them to install them and send them back.
The service I used is called Lensabl. I bought a pair of their cheapest lens options, the CR39 lenses which are for basic prescriptions and have a base cost of $77 (polycarbonate and Trivex are available for a little more). I added the premium anti-reflective coating for an additional $40 bringing my total to $117. Not bad! I still am wearing them now two years later, and while they are a bit scratched I would say they’ve held up better than average. Our overall cost now is 117+87, bringing us to a total of $204 and saving us at least 100 dollars. The downside is obviously having to wait for shipping on the frames and the lenses. This can also be a great option if you want to reuse your old frames!
Buy frames and prescriptions online from one shop
This is where things can get interesting. First, make sure you install the browser add-on Honey for whichever browser you are using. You’ve probably seen while checking out online a field that says “enter promo code” or something to that extent. Honey will try many different codes and I’ve found that these glasses retailers have lots of them. Also, it is possible to have insurance do an out-of-network rebate on some of these retailers!
Here are some options for places to try:
- GlassesUSA: don’t get the cheapest lenses as I’ve found them to be very glarey
- Eyebuydirect: fewer pop-ups and annoyances on the website, seem to be very well received
- Framesdirect: I found that I can get more premium lenses at a heavy discount
With these sites, generally the frames will cost a little more, but the lenses are cheaper than Lensabl. Overall you will likely end up spending about the same amount of money either way. Some of these types of shops have a service where you can try on glasses and send them back, but I prefer to try them in person which is why I suggest trying in stores instead first. My main caveat here is that it’s quite difficult to parse out lense quality across brands. Companies use lots of jargon, and there doesn’t seem to be a standard way to make lenses across the board. However, I find these types of websites to be a little more upfront about their lens offerings compared to when I’ve been in store.
GlassesUSA: I tried to recreate the combo I currently have but they didn’t have the exact same frames as they are a bit old. I did find a similarly priced pair of Ray Bans and came out with a frame and lens package of similar quality to mine that cost about $201 after Honey savings of $29.
Eyebuydirect: I picked out my model but in a different color for 200 after 21 dollars in savings from Honey. Their approach seems very “no nonsense” which I like. They seem to have fewer premium options for lenses/ they restrict the frames that you can get them with (for example, polycarbonate is not available on all frames). However, I suspect based on reviews that their “normal” lenses are quite good.
Framesdirect: On this site, I picked the polycarbonate standard lenses possible on my exact pair of glasses. I ended up with a total of 275, after 125 in savings! I don’t know how good these lenses really are though. I dialed it back to normal CR39 lenses and the total was only reduced to 250 which doesn’t feel worth it. I feel like if you want to step up your lenses this could be a good option.
I considered creating a table to compare all of the costs of lenses, but I figure it would be out of date pretty quickly, and also the coupons can change wildly as well. It’s a good idea to check these sites, see if they have your lenses, add in the type of prescription you have but select “I’ll upload later” so you don’t have to type it all in and see what has the best deal. Overall, you should be able to get frames and prescription lenses for about $200, which will hopefully last you a couple of years! I think this is definitely worth the effort compared to a retail walk-in option, where I have been talked into spending $500 or more in the past.