Big Spending: Eye Glasses

This weekend, I finally buckled down and went to the eye doctor. I’ll be honest, it’s been years. Maybe 5? Maybe longer? Who knows.

It isn’t so much that I dread the actual eye doctor itself, but rather, the bill that tends to come along with it. I have vision insurance through work, but everyone considers it basically worthless, since very few providers accept it. The appointment itself isn’t out of bounds: $130 for everything. It’s the new eyeglasses that I was dreading. My vision isn’t terrible, but I have astigmatism, and am required to wear glasses when I drive. For years, driving has been the only time I wore my glasses. But over the past year, I’ve noticed I’m getting headaches at work, which are alleviated when I wear my glasses. My eye doctor says that is common in people with astigmatism in their mid 30s: Their eyes can no longer compensate for the astigmatism, and they start getting headaches more and more often, especially in office settings.

I’ve probably owned 3 pairs of glasses since I got my first pair in college, and two of those I’ve bought myself. Each time it cost $300-400. Ouch! I did try contacts off and on over the years, but had issues with allergies and eye infections (caused by a mold allergy), and could never get clear vision with contacts. It just didn’t seem worth the price. My vision hasn’t changed much since the last time I bought glasses, but since they’ve stayed in the car for years, the lenses were starting to get scratched. I buy plastic frames, and have been told before they can’t replace lenses in those frames without compromising the plastic. It was time to buckle down and buy a new pair.

Of course, I’m smarter and more careful with my money now than I was in the past. I wasn’t about to shell out big bucks for one pair of glasses. And, now that I’m older, I’m less concerned with finding the “perfect” look. I decided to start by digging into the vision insurance, which everyone assured me was worthless. I didn’t want to switch eye doctors, and mine isn’t covered under the plan, but I did find they’d reimburse me $40 for an exam. Not a bad start. I wasn’t as picky about where I went for the actual glasses. And it turns out, Eyeglass World is covered under my insurance.

Eyeglass World advertises themselves as the place to get “2 pairs for $78”. They also have a lot of BOGO frames in the $90-150 range. After perusing the website, they point out that sometimes their pricing is better without insurance than with, depending on the copays on your plan. After careful consideration, I came up with a plan: I’d look into buying 2 pairs of glasses (one for work, and one for the car), and one pair of prescription sunglasses.

The Eyeglass World I went to had a fair selection of frames at the “2 for $78” price range. And they were all about finding the best way to save me money. Since the sunglass frames were more expensive ($120), and my insurance would cover up to $130 in frames, they ended up running that pair through my insurance. Of course, my insurance wouldn’t cover “polarizing” the lenses (i.e. tinting them to be sunglasses), so that ended up costing me. But the insurance did cover a poly lens, instead of the typical plastic. All in all, the sunglasses set me back $89 (including copays), for what should have cost $271. Not too shabby.

Glasses being glasses, there seems to be an endless number of upgrades that can wind up costing you a pretty penny. I added the poly lenses to each of my pairs of glasses, but skipped on all of the other special coatings; I’ve known too many people whose new glasses have scratched or peeled with the added coatings, so I didn’t feel it was worth it. I ended up choosing one frame at the 2 for $78 price point, and one at the BOGO for $99 price point. As it turns out, instead of just buying the $99 frames, and getting the $78 frames free, they also offer 50% off each (which included 50% off the lens upgrade). It didn’t make a huge difference, but it still saved me some money.

All in all, I walked out having spent $267.97. Granted, it’s much cheaper than my usual $300-400 for one pair. But it’s still a lot of money. And I would have been fine with just one pair. The second pair and sunglasses were really more luxury purchases. Why didn’t I reign in my spending more, especially when I’m trying to pay off debt? Well, I have a FSA account through work, with tax-free money just waiting to be spent before the end of the year. If I don’t use that money during 2015, I’ll lose it. Sure, the year isn’t over yet, so I could still have some medical expenses coming my way. But, there’s just over 4 months left of the year, and I don’t foresee anything big coming up. Since my prescription hasn’t really changed much over the years, these glasses should be able to last me a while. And with the prescription sunglasses, I’m hoping I’ll actually end up saving myself money. How? Well, since I can’t wear regular sunglasses when driving, I don’t keep them in the car. Typically I buy a new pair every year, usually for vacation or another event. And then, since I can’t use them in my daily life, I end up misplacing them*, only to buy a new pair the following year. Granted, I buy cheaper sunglasses. But that’s $20+, every year, for something that gets barely any use. If I can keep these sunglasses for 4 years, I’ll probably break even, and have gotten way more use out of them.

So, an eye exam, two new pairs of glasses, and a pair of prescription sunglasses. In all, I spent about $398. But, once I get the insurance and FSA reimbursements, I’m looking at more like $50 additional spending (since the FSA money is technically money that I’ve already “spent” out of my budget). Not too shabby!

– Cindy W.

* Actually, I don’t think I misplace them so much as someone walks off with them. And no one is going to permanently “borrow” prescription sunglasses.


  1. It seems like eye glasses have price points all over the board! My husband got his first pair for $500, and his second for about $30. We didn’t use insurance either time. Thankfully, these days, he can get an exam for free at university medical center; then we can just pay for a new pair of glasses if necessary. Thankfully, he’s super careful, so he’s unlikely to break his glasses or lose them.

    1. Free eye exams are awesome! I really need to get better about going to the eye doctor, especially as I’m getting older. I’ve thought about alternating, every two years, between a provider than accepts my insurance, and my normal eye doctor. Of course, all of that depends on the future job situation!

      I’ve thankfully never lost or broken a pair of glasses. Of course, up until recently, they rarely left the car. We’ll see if that changes now that I’m wearing one pair 45+ hours a week! The bonus of having two pairs is I have a backup if something happens. Then I can wait until insurance will cover another pair, and just have a copay.

  2. My eyes are one of my biggest annual expenses. I don’t get new glasses very often anymore, thankfully, but contacts are a yearly thing. Next year I do hope to put an FSA account in place (for complicated reasons I haven’t had one yet) to help with those costs a bit. Anyway, it sounds like you did really good — three pairs of glasses for $50 out of pocket is awesome!

    1. I thought about contacts for about 5 seconds. Love the idea of them, but the reality hasn’t been so great for me. And the expense really adds up, especially for toric lenses. Plus, I like the idea of being able to ditch my glasses at any time. Since I don’t wear them all the time, my depth perception hasn’t adjusted. When I’m walking around the ground seems so much closer, which makes me realize just how short I really am!

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