Don't Spend $1,000 On $8 Glasses

Most people spend too much on glasses, failing to shop around even though they are legally entitled to take their prescription anywhere. Local opticians usually provide the best service, but offer the worst deals. 147 million Americans might save on glasses by following these simple tips from the Chicago Tribune:

  • Ignore brands: Choose the best look, not the best brand. Giorgio Armani and Ralph Lauren license their name to a manufacturer; they don’t make their own frames.
  • Weigh Discounts: The discounts from AAA may be more valuable than your employer’s vision insurance.
  • Try Big Box Stores: Costco and BJ’s offer good customer service and don’t always require membership to purchase glasses.
  • Great deals can also be found on the internet, but be wary of unnecessary add-ons, which can significantly raise prices.

    Price ranges for glasses prove real eye-opener [Chicago Tribune]
    (Photo: MJorge)

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    1. TechnoDestructo says:

      If you travel to Asia, Japan and Korea have been consistently cheaper to buy glasses than the US (I presume other East Asian countries are as well.)

      When I went to Japan in 2000, there was a price war going on with glasses manufacturers. As of 2 years ago you could still get a decent pair of glasses for 30-40 (sometimes as low as 25) bucks or so in Japan.

      I can’t…I have to pay more like 60-70, and more like 100 if I want them to be thin, but people who aren’t blind as earthworms can do very well. Hey, it’s still cheaper than the 150 or more I’d be paying in the states.

      Korea is comparable.

      Note that the ultra-cheap frames can’t take much abuse, and paying an extra 10 or 20 bucks for good ones is often (but not always) worth it.

      It isn’t worth a plane ticket to buy glasses, but if you’re going, and you’ll be there at least a week (if you need a weird prescription like mine, at least…if not you could get them much quicker, as little as 45 minutes), it’s definitely worthwhile.

      I’m pretty sure their prescription system is different from the US, though, so they may not be able to use one from the US. But they’ll check you out for free in the shop.

    2. TechnoDestructo says:

      Hmm…looking around that Zenni Optical site, it seems pretty great, but one thing would make it perfect: An applet that lets you upload a photo of yourself and overlay different frames on it.

    3. RonDiaz says:

      Also don’t go somewhere simply because you’re insurance requires you to go there. For my wife and I it was nearly $900 to go tot he insurance sanctioned place, and it only kicked in $4.50 anyways. I don’t even understand how they figure it, I’ve spent as much time as I am willing to spend pouring over the information on my health plan, next time I am just going back to Wal-Mart. I can usually get an exam, frames and lenses for under $300 there.

    4. JustIcedCoffee says:

      where’s the pair of glasses that cost a thou for 8 bucks?

    5. thefezman says:

      Just for the record – Sam’s Club’s glasses SUCK. Mine are currently held together with super glue and I haven’t even had them a year. They still cost me nearly $200 with the exam, and I didn’t get any special Titanium ones or anytihing. They did tell me they were scratch resistant lenses, so much for that.

      I also loved how they never mentioned how long it would take to get the glasses until after I actually paid for them – 2 weeks. I guess they ship them on the slow boat from China…

    6. Papercutninja says:

      Obviously, YMMV, but try your local Chinatown. I’ve been going to a shop since i was a kid (ok, i’m of Chinese descent) and the prices have always been reasonable. Even with designer frames and non-reflective lenses etc, i’ve never paid more than $300 for a pair, INCLUDING the exam from their on-site Optometrist. AND my eyes are pretty bad. I think a pair of lenses cost like $60 when my girlfriend went.

    7. bohemian says:

      Are there any online places you can buy glasses from Japan? That sounds like an untapped market.

      Most of the frames at our optician were around $300, just for the frame. I did find one that was like $125. With our insurance the whole thing cost me $50 including the exam.

      I would love a cheap source for decent quality glasses. Kids are horrible on glasses.

    8. missjulied says:

      “No matter where you buy eyeglasses, view lens add-ons skeptically.”

      I’ve found that anti-scratch coating is TOTALLY worth it, and I would never buy another pair of glasses without anti-glare. I’ve bought frames that have cost from $10 to $300, but I never skimp on the lenses.

    9. DeliBoy says:

      Awesome, I’m gonna get me some $8 disposable glasses. My good pair can take quite a pounding during fencing (or -insert your own sport-).

    10. Get a VSP if possible. I don’t know how common it is for employers to offer it.

    11. Gloria says:

      Go some place Chinese. They bargain, provide a nice range of frames (including designer for those who crave them), and great service. I bought a pair of stylish Japanese glasses there for $160, with anti-reflective coating, the works.

      When I brought them back because I finally admitted they didn’t suit me, they sold me new frames with new lenses essentially thrown in for free, even when I was completely prepared to pay for them. I was impressed.

      As for my father, he’s practically half-blind, with a prescription from hell, and bought a pair of titanium frames and French-made lenses for well under $300.

      Asian malls tend to be brimming with optical shops (the place we went to had at least five in operation) so the pricing is also more competitive.

      It took a few days to order my glasses in (and about a week to get my father’s) which might be long for some people, but I didn’t mind the least. The glasses are incredibly sturdy, and definitely preferable to the horror stories of glasses for $800-$1000. I’d never feel comfortable with that much money riding on my nose.

      I also bought glasses once from Optical 4 Less, an online site, and my glasses came out great. $45 for a pair of back-up glasses is not too shabby.

    12. Gloria says:

      Oh, many of the prices I quoted were Canadian, as a note.

    13. VA_White says:

      [www.39dollarglasses.com]

      I’ve had good success with them. Mine cost more than $39 because I also see as well as an earthworm but my total came to about $75 versus the $300 I paid at my eye doc’s.

    14. newlywed says:

      I second the VSP. My hubby’s VSP is only $8 a month for the two of us, and each of us paid $10 for the eye exam, a $25 co-pay for the lenses (no matter how pitiful your eyesight is, and mine is pretty pitiful), and “free” frames up to $125, and any cost over the $125 is 20% (so if you choose a $225 frame, you only have to pay $80 instead of $100). We went to a fab clinic and I got my awesome glasses for only $60 and hubby got his hard contact lenses for free after the $10 eye exam!

    15. wring says:

      I stamp Zenni Optical with my seal of approval. Glasses in a week for less than $20, awesome!

    16. blakewest says:

      For the definitive compendium of information about online eyeglass stores, go to [glassyeyes.blogspot.com] Ira has spent the time looking at and purchasing from the various online sellers. There’s also a community around this site of people who have had both good and bad experiences with online shops.

      I purchased both regular glasses and sunglasses from [www.goggles4u.com] for $25 each including shipping and have been quite happy.

    17. MoCo says:

      Costco optical has always been reliable and fast for me. No problem ever with the warranty, either. My son broke three pair of frames playing rough sports and they replaced the frames every time with no questions asked. Also, they continue to service the glasses (fix bends, replace lost screws, etc.) even after the 1 year warranty is over.

    18. CamilleR says:

      Glasses are one thing I won’t go cheap on. I can’t see more than a few inches without them, so my glasses are on 14-16 hours a day. And add-ons to me are a necessity. Anti-glare makes it easier to see, anti-scratch coating help the lenses last longer, and thin lenses make the glasses a lot more wearable (without them, my lenses would be Coke bottle thick). I chose frames based on looks not price, and my most recent pair showed me I need to be fussy with frames since the frame affects the curve of the lens which can lead to funky visual effects.
      Thankfully my eyesight’s evened out so I can go 2-3 years between new pairs (4-6 years for new sunglasses). $300 for something I wear every day for years is really not bad.

    19. Amy Alkon says:

      I got my prescrip filled at eyeglassdirect.com. Cost me $39.95…with shipping. Conceivably, if you buy $10 sunglasses on the beach or wherever el cheapo glasses are sold near you, you could get out for less than $50.

      Oh, it helps to have Kaiser Permanente. It cost me $25 copay to get my prescrip in the first place. Kaiser had ugly glasses starting at around $167, so I was going to get frames on the beach, but I ended up getting super groovy ones 60 percent off at an optical store sale.

      My boyfriend’s Gucci frames that he spent some ginormous amount on broke. Turned out they were discontinued. Perfect! I wrote down the serial number and found the frames on Canadian eBay. $40, including shipping to the USA.

      You don’t have to pay through the various orifices for things. You just have to not want to and want to be willing to do a few moments research as to alternatives.

      P.S. I buy almost everything on eBay, from clothes to makeup, to toner. The laser printer toner that’s supposed to cost $92 at office supply warehouses? I last got two offbrand ones for $52 on eBay.

    20. PsychicPsycho3 says:

      Nice tips, but my vision insurance requires that I get my specs at the same place as my exam.

    21. ZekeSulastin says:

      There was a time when I once cared about glasses pricing, but then I started wearing contacts all the time due to vision distortion and wrestling. Good eyeglasses or not, -7 and -11 diopter glasses lenses distort the crap out of everything, are thick, and you can’t wear them in wrestling anyways.

      It’s been years since I have done that sort of thing, but contacts (especially the ones you can leave in for up to 30 days at a time) are a far better solution at my vision deficiency.

      (On a side note, the military does provide me a free pair of glasses every year … not that I like using them but they are there …)

    22. ZekeSulastin says:

      (forgive the double post)

      Also, as far as glasses back home went, I generally used the local eye doctor. The insurance covered a lot of it and the service was far better than that at Walmart or Pearle Vision.

      As far as emergency glasses went, at one point I broke all my pairs (this being before I wore contacts). As my prescription was horrid, it made it impossible to function in class, so we went to LensCrafters in a mall since they had that 1-hour thing (as opposed to the 2 weeks that was average for me then). They said an hour, and an hour later, I came back but they had no glasses. They were apologizing quite profusely for screwing up their first attempt at the prescription, and asked us if we could come back in 2 or 3 hours. We agreed (still a lot faster than two weeks), and got perfect glasses about 2.5 hrs later.

      That pair lasted me the longest of any pair I owned, finally being retired after two or three years when my prescription changed too much. I still have them, somewhere …

    23. TechnoDestructo says:

      @missjulied:

      Re: anti-glare coatings, anti-scratch coatings, and tints:

      I’m not sure which it was that did it…I don’t think it was the tint, though…but one of those items on my sunglasses got “crazing” all over the lens when I left it in a hot (Arizona, 105 degrees in the shade…my Mango Altoids and a Bic mechanical pencil actually MELTED) car.

      Be careful.

    24. mishy says:

      Check out [www.eyeglassretailerreviews.com] for reviews of many different online eyeglass retailers. My boyfriend and I have both bought glasses from one of the sites. I don’t remember which it was but the glasses were about $30 each. I love the pair I got. I’m not sure how durable they are but I like them because they are actually thinner and lighter than the $250 brand name glasses I got through my insurance. However, my boyfriend’s pair showed up so warped that they wouldn’t fit on his face.

      When I was looking at glasses online I took measurements of a pair of glasses that I already had that I liked a lot. Then, the website I used let me look up glasses by size and I found some with a nice shape and similar size to my old ones.

    25. HungryGrrl says:

      I got a brilliant idea (after having an exam at Lenscrafters and not finding anything cheap I liked in their store) to save some money once and headed to the children’s section of the Glasses Shop at Sears. (I have a small head). They seemed OK in the store but after I picked them up I realized that while the width of my head falls under the childrens sizes, the length from my ear to nose does NOT correspond with the childrens sizes, meaning the arms of the glasses were a bit too short. A few months of pushing the glasses up my nose 10x a day and I went to Lenscrafters for a new pair. I don’t think Sears had a very good return policy, wheras Lenscrafters let you exchange anything within six months.

      Also AAA have ALWAYS given me the best discount, but it doesn’t hurt to look for coupons, especially if you’re after more than one pair. And put your prescription in a safe place, so you don’t have to have another exam if you decide you need a new pair within a year!

    26. mepaul says:

      I’ve had good experiences buying cheap, good glasses online. Like $26 at goggles4u.com and similar prices at Zenni Optical, where I also got progressive + photochromic glasses for about $90. At a store, just the lenses cost $300.
      FYI: to order online, you need your PD (pupillary distance), which isn’t on the prescription.

    27. Blind But Now I See says:

      I bought a pair of eyeglasses at 39dollarglasses.com in May and they are great. I only wear my glasses a couple of days each month but cheapest frames and lenses I could get from the local optometrist were almost $300 and they had a hideous Gloria Vanderbilt logo on them! If you wear your glasses 24/7 then you probably need a professional fitting, but for people like me, I would definitely recommend them. Turnaround time was only 6 days from when I ordered them (and it was a holiday week too). I know I’m probably starting to sound like a shill for them about now, but when you buy a pair of glasses on the Internet for approximately what the sales tax would have cost you locally, you get kinda giddy.

    28. juri squared says:

      I love you, Consumerist. I hadn’t considered this, and I love the idea that I can buy as many frames and sunglasses as my heart desires without breaking the bank.

      Seriously, I’ve been surfing for glasses for an hour and it’s totally made my day.

    29. FINANCE101 says:

      I know of a local company that pas $2-4 for frames that are sold to the public for $150-4350. It is amazing. You can buy a damn computer for $350!

    30. FINANCE101 says:

      4250 should be $450

    31. FINANCE101 says:

      oops 4350 should instead be $350. To much Sierra Nevada. :-)

    32. zolielo says:

      @MoCo: I normally love Costco but have found through measurement that the lens which I bought from them were off prescription wise.

      What I would suggest is going for plan metal Flexon frames as they are timeless style wise and as flexible as a reed. Buy quality and spread the cost over a long time frame.

      Also I would have the lens checked for accuracy upon delivery. And talk to the optometrist about eye exam measurement error. A good optometrist will use three or more methods to determine a proper prescription.

    33. a_m_m_b says:

      @CamilleR: i quite agree with no skimping. particularly regarding my 10yr old’s glasses. the titanium flex frame, polycarb lenses w/anti glare, anti scratch may cost a bit more but are well worth it. why spend as much or more with endless repairs & replacements.

      that said, we get the frame 1st & then have it filled with the script as written by the pediatric ophthalmologist.

    34. Amy Alkon says:

      FYI: to order online, you need your PD (pupillary distance), which isn’t on the prescription.

      Eyeglassdirect tells you how to do this with a millimeter ruler.

    35. missdona says:

      If you live around NYC, keep an eye out for eyeglass sample sales. I always get my frames at samples sales and have a local discount place put the lenses in for me.

      I got a pair of $400+ dollar lenses for $50.

    36. I second the advice for 39dollarglasses.com. I always look for great vintage frames at antique stores or eBay, then send them to 39dollarglasses. I think that even with uv and scratch resistant coatings, the last pair I bought cost under $80.

    37. j-o-h-n says:

      @mepaul: “FYI: to order online, you need your PD (pupillary distance), which isn’t on the prescription.

      I suspect that if you asked the person doing your eye exam, they would write that down for you as well.

    38. ekthesy says:

      I have horrid vision (-9.5, -10.5) and as such have a constant need to wear glasses (I am allergic to some component of the whole contact lens system). Also, it’s very important that the lens be as thin as possible, which means smaller frames without curvature.

      Target Optical, of all places, has been pretty good about pricing and service. I purchased the pair I am wearing now for $39 clearance frames and ~$130 on the lenses after insurance and Target’s half-off sale kicked in. Always mention you have health insurance, I didn’t think it applied to vision but it gave me a bit of a discount.

      A couple of weeks ago, I ordered 2 pair of the same glasses, one for regular specs, one for sunglasses, these frames were a bit nicer so I paid something like $480 for the two pair, including lenses…after the insurance it was $430 for the two pair. Not so bad, considering the upscale optician where I got glasses as a child charged ~$500 for each pair.

      The only problem with Target Optical is that their supply chain isn’t the greatest. It usually takes longer than the initial estimate for order fulfillment. These recent two pair I ordered, turns out the frame was backordered, so both pairs are being held up. Thank FSM I don’t desperately need them…I would have had to go to my spare pair which is about ten years old and give me a huge headache.

    39. Gloria says:

      @j-o-h-n: You’re right. I’m pretty sure that they legally have to tell you, in case they throw a snit about it.

    40. SayAhh says:

      While prescription numbers aren’t the same in Asian countries as they are in the US, I think they’re different because they are written in powers of 100 compared to the ones used in the US (e.g., 2.0 vs 200), but I could be wrong. Despite the difference in prescription notation, since there is so much competition (like the price was the Japan TECHNODESTRUCTO mentions above), more often than not the eye exam (to see if your prescription has changed) is free even if you do not purchase a pair of glasses. Don’t skimp on the actual lenses, though (I heard Hoya makes arguably the best lenses in the world) and always make sure there’s 100% UVA, UVB and UVC protection on them.

    41. SayAhh says:

      I meant to write “like the price wars in Japan TECHNODESTRUCTO mentions above.”