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Cheap eyeglasses: What’s the average cost of prescription glasses?

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Eyewear prescription in hand, you’re ready for the fun (or not so fun) part: buying killer lenses and frames. How do you find reasonably priced (read, cheapish) eyeglasses that you love without skimping on style and quality?

A good place to start is the average cost of prescription glasses. Alas, that price gets you only so far.

Consumer Reports noted that eyeglasses from a top U.S. eyewear chain cost an out-of-pocket median of $369. The same report said a U.S. discount retailer had a median out-of-pocket cost of $184 (note it’s a membership chain, whose annual fee adds to the cost).

But the price you actually pay can vary wildly. Frames can range from a rock bottom of $8 for metal-alloy versions to $600 for their name-brand counterparts. Designer eyeglasses from the likes of Calvin Klein or Valentino can command up to $1,000.

Lenses are another matter. Variables like the cost of production, research and development, manufacturing and dispensing affect the ultimate price tag. Specialty lenses, protective coatings and bifocal/progressive options cost extra. Cha-ching.

Will vision insurance help you out? Perhaps. Insurance coverage for eyeglasses varies from plans with no co-pay to a $50 co-pay. Many policies cap total coverage at around $120.

If you’re among the few who crave the most stylish brands and every lens option in the book, money may not be an issue. But if you’re among the many who need cheap eyeglasses, you have to be selective. 

Which factors affect the cost of eyeglasses?

Eyeglass costs typically include lenses, frames, nose pads (if the frame uses them), a case and a microfiber cleaning cloth.

Your out-of-pocket expense depends on your insurance coverage, the nature of your prescription and your personal needs and preferences. Single-vision lenses cost the least, while multifocal lenses like bifocals, trifocals or progressives (which let you focus on near and far distances) cost more. If you have anything unusual or problematic about your prescription, you may pay more. 

Lens cost issues: Technology offers more eyeglass lens choices than ever — and more ways to jack up the price. Lens types include:

  • Conventional plastic — a popular, low-cost option

  • Aspheric — slim and attractive lenses that sharpen peripheral vision

  • High-index plastic — thinner, lighter lenses with have better built-in UV protection

  • Wavefront technology — vision-sharpening lenses fabricated based on how light travels through the eyes

  • Polycarbonate and Trivex — up to 10 times more impact-resistant than standard lenses, making them ideal for kids, athletes and anybody who is hard on their glasses. They’re also thinner and lighter than conventional lenses.

Special lens treatments typically add more costs. These include tints, anti-reflective coatings, photochromic lenses that darken outside, polarized lenses that cut glare resistance while driving, scratch-resistant coatings and UV protection to shields eyes from ultraviolet rays.

How do frame materials affect eyeglass costs?

Plastic frames may be cheaper than metal ones, according to the American Academy Of Ophthalmology. Plastic is tough, lightweight and comes in a lot of color choices. As long as you steer clear of designer models, plastic frames may be your budget go-to.

Metal frames cost a bit more. They’re strong and lightweight thanks to alloys like titanium and aluminum. The good ones resist corrosion.

Not all frames are hypoallergenic. Read specifics to learn what your frames are made of, especially if you’re allergic to nickel or plastics.

What if your prescription is difficult?

If you have really poor vision, astigmatism (changes in the curve of your eye) or vastly different prescriptions in each eye, finding glasses you’re happy with may be more challenging.

If you’ve had trouble getting the right lenses, you might be able to reduce costs by buying your frames online and having your optician insert the lenses into them.

Where should you shop for glasses?

Optometrist office. Your optometrist or ophthalmologist office is the likely first stop. This used to be the only place to get lenses after an eye exam. Buyers were at the mercy of the optician (the technician trained to fit your glasses); frame selections were limited. Not so today.

NEED AN EYE EXAM? Find an eye doctor near you and make an appointment.

Vision centers. These one-stop shops for eyewear and eye care usually have a much larger selection than your optician provides. Offerings like having lenses ready in one hour attract scores of eyeglass shoppers.

Chain stores. Snap up paper towels and a new door mat along with your prescription glasses. Outlets like Walmart, Sears and Target have optical centers for your convenience with a decent selection of varying priced frames.

Warehouse clubs. Fans of deep discounts and bulk buying flock to warehouse club optical departments for both cut-rate designer glasses and regular frames.

Online. You can find legions of lenses and frames at all price points at online eyewear retailers, which let you shop for glasses by color, gender, style, material, size or shape. Buying eyeglasses online can be convenient and cost-effective, though you can’t try them on the same way you can in a brick-and-mortar store. Top-quality online retailers have generous return policies to help you find the best fit

What else should you look for?

Wherever you purchase glasses, check out reviews and return policies. If most reviews are positive, chances are your experience will be, too. Return policies should include a money-back guarantee if you’re not happy or provide a free replacement within 14-30 days. If you buy online, look for fit and style guarantees including no-questions-asked returns or exchanges.

It’s also a good idea to shop with U.S. retailers, since overseas sellers don’t have to adhere to Food and Drug Administration regulations. Plus, it doesn’t hurt to check with the Better Business Bureau before buying from a company for the first time.

Now that you know all of your cheap eyeglass buying options, you can start checking out frames, styles and types that will make you look like a million bucks but at a more manageable price.

READY TO SHOP FOR CHEAP EYEGLASSES? Find an eyeglasses store near you or online.

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