Almost anything related to health care in the United States costs an exorbitant amount of money, including dental work and eye work. Sometimes the cost forces people to neglect those aspects of their lives. But it doesn’t have to be that way, there are certainly some easy and accessible tricks to save money on prescription eye glasses and other related health care, if you know where to look.
I’ve long been a proponent of geoarbitrage, whereby you make your dollars go further thanks to pricing, exchange rates, or the cost of living differences in various locales. This is where the idea of medical tourism comes from, whereby you can take a vacation while simultaneously doing the medical or dental procedures you needed done for what it would cost you to do them outright in the United States. It’s like a two-for-one deal that basically results in a free vacation.
Thankfully, eye glasses are a slightly different story since they are a small physical product that can be shipped straight to your door at home, but there are still ways to take advantage of geoarbitrage in this case. Let’s dive in and talk about how to save hundreds of dollars on your next pair of prescription eye glasses.
Getting a Cheap Eye Exam
Almost ten years ago, back when I was still living in Washington, D.C., I ended up getting Lasik eye surgery — it was pricey, but it was definitely worth it! Living without glasses for basically the first time in my adult life was amazing.
But I also knew that it wouldn’t last forever and as I was finishing up my long road trip through South America, I began to notice my long distance vision beginning to fail. Cue sad music. I realized it was probably time to invite my old friends, those prescription eye glasses, back into my life.
Now, if you’re getting an eye exam in the United States, you can expect to pay around $75 for a comprehensive exam without insurance from places like Wal-Mart, Costco, and similar retailers. That price isn’t terrible, especially when you consider that you’re likely to spend a few hundred dollars on the actual frames and prescription lenses, unless you know the tricks. Some of you may have insurance that will cover the annual eye exam, but many of us aren’t so lucky, and regardless, you’ll still end up paying big for the glasses.
There’s no getting around it, you’re going to need an eye exam to be able to purchase cheap prescription eye glasses. The only real trick here is if you have an upcoming international trip in the near future, you can knock out a quick eye exam in many countries for shockingly cheap.
Obviously, you wouldn’t want to plan a trip solely for that, but if it works out, it works out. For example, I paid less than $10 for my eye exam in Colombia. Some may be worried about getting a shoddy exam or whatever in a poor or developing country, but honestly, my exam was indistinguishable from any other exam I had in my life. You can find expat forums online for recommendations or rely on things like Google and online reviews.
Regardless of where you get your exam, you want to be able to walk out the door with a copy of your prescription. The numbers on the paper may seem like a bunch of mumbo jumbo, but you can easily make sense of them with the help of Google and the Internet.
The one extra thing you need to make sure your prescription includes is your Pupillary Distance (PD) which measures where you look through the lens of your glasses. Now, some exams places are reluctant to include the PD measurement because they know you can easily take your prescription elsewhere and purchase online, so you should try to insist, or in a worst case scenario you can measure it yourself with a simple printout. My eye exam included it without having to ask.
Buy Cheap Eyeglasses Online
Now that you’ve got your eye exam prescription in your hands, regardless of whether you had to pay $10 or $75 — you can still save hundreds on your actual eye glasses, and this is where the more substantial savings come from. Honestly, the best way to get cheap eye glasses is by buying them online.
You may think that you could get even better deals by buying in-person while overseas, like I mentioned for the eye exam, but honestly no, that’d be pretty tough. My first pair of prescription eye glasses, purchased cheaply in Colombia were still around $100 for some mid-level frames with blue blocking lenses. Probably still a savings of 50% or more compared to the United States, but certainly not the cheapest, if you’re willing to purchase online.
Purchasing eyeglasses through Zenni Optical is probably the cheapest and easiest way to get your prescription eye glasses, and is where I bought my most recent pair. As mentioned, you need to have your prescription from you eye exam in order to input the information, as well as your PD. If you don’t have the PD measurement, you can print out a guide that will help you measure it, either by yourself or with the help of a friend or family member.
You can virtually “try on” all of their frames using your computer camera to take a little fake 3D selfie that lets you see your potential new frames on your head that you can rotate and back and forth to see from all sides.
It isn’t quite like trying them on at the store, but I’d say the virtual look is pretty consistent with the final results, you just can’t be sure how they will actually feel on your face, so try and read the reviews of previous purchasers for a better idea. They do not appear to censor any reviews and you can find some frames with a higher proportion of bad reviews, so maybe stay away from those.
Zenni has tons of different styles to choose from and at prices that seem almost comically cheap when compared to any in person store. I think the cheap prices actually kind of scare some people away who think they must be poor quality or a shoddy product.
Zenni glasses are so affordable for a number of reasons: they operate entirely online with no brick and mortar stores, they have a dedicated factory and ship directly to consumer, and because they are made in China (as with every other eyeglass retailer), allowing you to take advantage of geoarbitrage without leaving home.
My latest eye glasses cost less than $23 TOTAL for a basic prescription with the anti-reflective coating add-on (which I would recommend, at minimum). That price is including the $4.95 I had to pay for shipping. Pretty crazy. Shipping time is listed at 14-21 days, but in my case, it arrived in only seven days.
The glasses are of decent quality as well as the lenses… Certainly nothing that jumps out at me as being poor quality. The actual prescription (and my vision/eyesight) is indistinguishable from my other pair of prescription glasses.
Zenni glasses are so cheap that you could buy a few pairs and still save considerable money. Maybe that means the same glasses to stash a few in different places or a few different styles to switch things up day-today.
If you’re a traveler, it’s usually a good idea to always travel with a spare pair just in case you end up losing or breaking a pair while you’re out and about. So, at the least, Zenni Optical is the place to go to get yourself a spare set of glasses.
Buying a cheap set of spare glasses for travel, for kicking around, or whatever is probably the best way to see for yourself whether they’re right for you.
Honestly, after paying so little for these glasses the last time, it makes it hard for me to ever imagine going back to paying a few hundred or more for a pair of glasses. If you’ve never used Zenni Optical before, you can get started now with $5 off your first order via my link. Let me know what you think!
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