Prescription eyewear and contact lenses can be expensive.
According to a 2019 Statista report on eyewear in the United States, the average cost of frames is $231 and the average cost of single-vision lenses is $112. If you have a more complex prescription or add contact lenses to the mix, you’re looking at an even higher yearly or monthly budget for vision care.
But it’s possible to save money on eyeglasses and contact lenses. You just need to know where to shop and take advantage of various programs that help you save on vision costs.
How to Save Money on Contacts and Glasses
Several strategies can help you save on your current yearly eyewear purchases or avoid them altogether.
1. Get Regular Eye Exams (the Right Way)
You need a prescription to buy eyewear in the U.S. Additionally, prescriptions are typically valid for at least a year or the minimum required by state law. But even if your eyewear seems fine, it’s wise to schedule regular eye exams, especially if you’re buying replacement eyewear.
According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, inaccurate prescriptions can cause eye strain and headaches. Plus, as you age, eye exams can catch the development of conditions like glaucoma and macular degeneration.
Before spending hundreds of dollars on a new set of eyewear or supply of contact lenses, book an eye exam if it’s been a while since your last one. The cost is worth it compared to buying eyewear or contact lenses that don’t help your vision and cause eye strain.
Granted, regular eye exams can be expensive. But you can save money by going to retail vision providers instead of a private optometrist.
According to VisionCenter.org, retail vision providers usually charge less than $100 for an eye exam. By contrast, independent eye doctors typically charge more. VisionCenter.org says the independent-doctor cost of an eye exam without vision insurance is around $200 for new patients and $100 to $150 for existing patients.
If you’re shopping online and have to renew an expired prescription, look for an online eyewear retailer that offers free online vision tests. They’re usually limited to people of certain ages, such as 18 to 55. But if you feel your vision is worsening and your previous prescription is inaccurate, consult your eye doctor for an up-to-date prescription.
Call several optometrists in your area to find the cheapest eye exam price before booking. Even without vision insurance, you likely don’t have to pay over $100 for your next exam if you shop around.
2. Research Vision Insurance and Health Care Benefits
If your employer offers benefits, you may have vision coverage as part of your health insurance. In that case, your insurance probably covers most prescription eyewear expenses up to a certain amount per year.
But you can still find coverage if your employer doesn’t provide it.
For starters, you can use the health insurance marketplace if your employer doesn’t offer an Affordable Care Act-compliant plan, you’re self-employed or unemployed, or you don’t have a part-time job that has insurance coverage.
Ultimately, choosing the best health insurance plan depends on your needs, but there are options for almost everyone.
Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) also cover vision care in most states. However, to qualify for Medicaid, you must fall below a certain income level or belong to a specific group that’s eligible for coverage, such as individuals receiving Supplemental Security Income or qualified pregnant people.
As for CHIP, children must be under 19, uninsured, and within the state’s CHIP income range. Visit Benefits.gov to check your eligibility and what’s covered in your state.
You can also buy independent vision insurance plans. Popular vision insurance providers include:
- Davis Vision: Individual plans start at $12.50 per month.
- EyeMed: Individual plans start at $5 per month.
- United Healthcare: Coverage options and price vary by location but can start at around $10 per month.
- VSP: Individual plans start at $13 per month.
Typically, basic vision insurance covers eye exams, contact lenses, and eyewear. Depending on your level of coverage, you can get a percent discount or have all your expenses covered up to a certain amount. More expensive plans usually help cover expenses for various eye diseases and eye surgery in addition to eyewear costs.
The best way to decide how much coverage you need is to analyze your previous vision care expenses for the last few years.
If you’re young and healthy and don’t spend much on vision care, a basic plan likely suffices. But if you consistently spend hundreds of dollars per year out of pocket or are older with worsening vision, a more comprehensive plan makes sense.
When researching vision insurance providers, check their network of partner eye care doctors and retailers. A cheap vision care plan might look great on paper, but you want a plan that has in-network doctors and eyewear retailers in your city.
Check your existing coverage to see if it covers your eye care expense needs. If it doesn’t, find out if you can receive coverage through a spouse or parent. If those options fall short, shop for vision insurance or comprehensive health care plans that suit your needs.
3. Utilize Your HSA or FSA
If you currently have a health savings account or flexible spending account, you already have an excellent tool to reduce your vision care expenses.
A health savings account (HSA) is a tax-advantaged account for your medical expenses. You can transfer money into your HSA tax-free and then use those funds to pay for medical costs until you reach your deductible limit. Medical expenses include vision care, so eyewear purchases are eligible.
Note that you need a high-deductible health plan (HDHP) to qualify for an HSA. HDHP plans have lower monthly premiums than other types of plans but come with higher deductibles.
The IRS also has several requirements and rules for contributing to your HSA. For 2021, rules and contributions include:
- A $3,600 contribution limit for individuals and a $7,100 limit for families
- $1,000 catch-up contributions if you’re 55 or older
- An HDHP minimum deductible of $1,400 for individuals and $2,800 for families
- Maximum HDHP out-of-pocket expenses of $7,000 for individuals and $14,000 for families
If you don’t have an HSA, check whether your employer offers a flexible spending account (FSA). You can use your FSA to pay for personal and family medical expenses your insurance doesn’t cover. That includes costs like your insurance co-pay, deductibles, and vision care costs.
You can contribute $2,750 to your FSA per year, and your contribution reduces your taxable income. However, FSA funds don’t roll over each year, and you forfeit excess money to your employer. That means it’s critical to spend every dollar you contribute to your FSA to maximize your savings without losing money at the end of the year.
If you can confidently forecast vision and other medical expenses for the year, utilize an FSA if your employer offers one.
Otherwise, be cautious about contributing to your FSA and set money aside for health care expenses in a high-yield savings account instead. That keeps your money liquid while you earn interest, and you don’t have to worry about forfeiting unused money at the end of the year.
4. Leverage Coupons and Cash-Back Rewards
If you shop online, shopping browser extensions let you use coupon codes and cash-back rewards to save even more.
Creating an account is free, and Rakuten pays you quarterly through PayPal or check as long as you have at least $5 in cash back. Just remember to shop through Rakuten for eyewear rather than visiting the retailer directly since Rakuten has to redirect you to the website to credit you with cash back.
Another money-saving extension that can help you find discounts on eyewear and contact lenses is Capital One Shopping. This free browser extension automatically applies any eligible coupon codes it finds at checkout. There’s also a section where you can search for sales, including sales on vision products.
Additionally, Capital One Shopping lets you earn credits for shopping at certain partners. You can redeem credits for free gift cards.
Participating retailers may vary between Rakuten and Capital One Shopping and over time, so compare cash-back rewards between the two to find the best deal before making a purchase.
5. Buy Contact Lenses in Bulk
Most contact lens prescriptions last for one year. And if you have several months or a year before your prescription expires, you can usually save money by buying contact lenses in bulk.
Warehouse clubs like Costco or Sam’s Club can help you save on contacts if you have a membership. Both clubs carry over a dozen contact lens brands and have regular sales or manufacturer rebates that drop prices.
Costco is particularly affordable for bulk shopping if you stick with their Kirkland Signature brand. For example, a 90-pack of Kirkland Signature daily disposables is under $60. But you can save even more by buying in bulk.
Buying four boxes saves $35, and buying eight saves $95. That brings the annual cost of contact lenses down to under $400 per year before taxes if you buy four boxes at a time. You can also shop online at Costco and Sam’s Club and enjoy free shipping on most orders.
If you don’t have a Costco or Sam’s Club membership, you can still find savings. Walmart offers bulk shopping discounts on many brands of contacts.
For example, buying a three-month supply of 1-Day Acuvue Moist 90-pack contacts costs around $70 per box. But if you buy a 12-month supply, the price-per-box drops to under $60 per box, saving you over $100 for buying eight boxes in total. Walmart also lets you shop online for contact lenses and offers free shipping.
The key is to buy only as many contact lenses as you need until the end of your prescription. You shouldn’t buy certain things in bulk, but contact lenses are an exception if you spot a deal for a brand you use.
6. Skip Add-Ons You Don’t Need
Certain prescriptions, like bifocals or progressive lenses, almost always cost more than single-vision prescriptions. That’s because lens thickness and the manufacturing process vary for different prescriptions, impacting price.
While you can’t change your prescription, you can still save money on eyewear by skipping certain upgrades. Eyewear companies often let you upgrade lenses with options like:
- Different lens types, like transition or blue-light-blocking lenses
- UV protection and antireflective coating
- Thinner lenses
- Anti-smudge and dust- and water-repellent coatings
These upgrades aren’t always a waste of money.
For example, if your job requires moving between the outdoors and indoors frequently, transition lenses are useful since your lenses darken when exposed to light to protect your eyes. Similarly, if you prefer extremely thin lenses and are willing to pay for them, that upgrade makes sense.
If you’re on a tight budget, stick with the bare essentials whenever possible.
7. Avoid Designer Brands
You can also opt for affordable, no-name frames over designer eyewear to save money.
For example, a pair of Ray-Ban’s popular Wayfarer glasses start at almost $180 for frames. By the time you add prescription lenses and potential upgrades, your glasses cost between $290 and $400. When you compare this to a pair of off-brand glasses that can cost under $50, you’re paying several hundred dollars more for choosing a designer brand.
But it’s a judgment call. Often, the manufacturing process for designer frames is more complex than cheaper plastic frames that are budget-friendly.
That means the $300 price tag on Ray-Ban or Oakley eyewear somewhat reflects higher-quality design and manufacturing and potentially a longer lifespan for your glasses if your prescription rarely changes. That’s largely why some wearers remain brand-loyal for their entire lives, whereas others are fine with cheaper brands.
You need to decide what’s right for your budget and preferences. But it’s crucial to remember that going cheap doesn’t mean your glasses look ugly or are poorly made. More affordable brands can still suit your style and help you stay within your budget.
8. Buy Premium Brands for Less
There’s no question designer brands deliver on quality and style. But if you’re set on buying designer eyewear, you don’t have to pay full price. Many online-only retailers offer designer eyewear at significant discounts.
For example, at GlassesUSA.com, you can find deals on designer brands like:
- Michael Kors
- Saint Laurent
Many designer frames are under $50 when on sale, and GlassesUSA.com typically runs sales year-round. Frame pricing includes single-vision lenses. Bifocals cost an additional $99, and progressives cost an additional $169. For even more savings, you can shop the sale section and find non-designer eyewear starting at just $19.
GlassesUSA.com also has a virtual try-on feature that uses your computer’s webcam to let you see how a pair of frames fit your face. Plus, the 14-day return policy enables you to send back your eyewear for a refund, store credit, or exchange. That way, you don’t get stuck with a pair of frames you dislike.
You need to upload a copy of your prescription to buy prescription eyewear or contacts online, so have a copy of your prescription ready or ask your eye doctor for a copy. If you don’t have it handy when choosing your frames, you can place the order without your prescription and send it later by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’re unsure where to shop online, check our lists of the best places to buy inexpensive prescription eyeglasses and contact lenses.
9. Reuse Frames
If it’s time to renew your prescription, don’t ditch your old glasses just yet. If the frames are in good condition, there’s a chance you can reuse your old frames when getting a new set of prescription eyewear.
According to All About Vision, opticians usually replace lenses if your frames are in good condition and your lens shape isn’t very complicated. So if you shop in-store, it’s worth asking the optician to inspect your frames.
If you shop online, check the retailer’s policy for reusing frames if you want to maximize savings. Online retailers usually outline rules for reusing frames in a frequently asked questions section, and you can also call or email most retailers to ask questions.
Crucially, check whether reusing frames voids any warranty you have on your eyeglasses. If reusing frames voids a warranty, it can still be worth it if your warranty ends soon anyway. For longer warranty periods, carefully consider the risk versus reward of reusing frames to save money.
10. Care for Your Eyewear
One final tip for saving money on glasses is to simply take better care of them.
There’s nothing worse than buying a new pair of prescription eyewear only to damage the lenses and have to pay for repairs. Losing your glasses altogether due to negligence is even costlier.
Some basic eyewear care tips include:
- Cleaning lenses with warm water and a drop of dish detergent, cleaning solution, or cleaning wipes
- Never cleaning your lenses if they’re dry since dust and other particles on their surface can cause scratching when you rub a cleaning cloth over them
- Carrying your glasses in a hard-shell case, not a soft-shell one or your pockets
- Taking off your glasses when not in use rather than positioning them over your head since that can alter your frame’s shape over time
- Laying glasses with their lenses facing upward instead of resting them against a surface
- Putting your glasses away when doing an activity in which you could lose or break them, like swimming or playing sports (you can buy an eyeglasses strap for $20 or less or specialized sport frames for $100 to $200 if you do activities like that frequently)
The same logic applies to contact lenses, albeit to a lesser extent. The primary care tip is to use a contact lens case to safely store lenses, which you can find in multipacks on Amazon for under $10. You should also replace your case every one to three months and use a contact lens solution to keep things sterile.
These are simple tips. But if you extend the length of your eyewear to match your prescription length, you can save hundreds of dollars in repair and replacement costs. Plus, proper sanitation of contacts is essential to avoiding irritation and possible eye infections.
The unfortunate reality is that vision expenses are generally unavoidable. And even if you spend money on LASIK surgery, that’s a significant upfront expense that’s not always workable.
Thankfully, you can usually avoid paying full price for glasses and contacts if you look for sales, leverage benefits and tax breaks, and stick to non-designer brands or online retailers.
Of course, you should never skimp on features or upgrades that improve your quality of life and vision. But don’t be afraid to stick with the basics, especially if you’re currently living paycheck to paycheck.