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Get discount glasses without insurance? Here’s how

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How to buy affordable glasses without vision insurance in 2024

Have you been squinting through old lenses because you don’t have vision insurance? A low-cost eye exam and discount glasses can bring your world back into focus without breaking the bank. With a little legwork you can get affordable, stylish glasses even if you don’t have vision insurance. 

Here’s how: Get a low-cost eye exam (because you will need a prescription, and be sure to ask for your pupillary distance). Then shop for discount glasses online or at an optical store.

What is the cost of an eye exam?

The cost of an eye exam without vision insurance can vary from $50 to $250, according to research gathered by Vision Center.

The U.S. national average cost for an eye exam is $200 for new patients and just less than $100-$150 for repeat patients, Vision Center found. 

A refractive vision test, which is done during a comprehensive eye exam to determine your prescription, can add almost $50 to your bill.

To get a low-cost eye exam, consider the who, what and where, as these are just some of the factors affecting the price of an eye exam: 

  • Who will be examining your eyes: The cost of an eye exam by an optometrist (OD) can be lower than the cost of an eye exam by an ophthalmologist (MD). The price of an eye exam also varies from eye doctor to eye doctor.

  • Which eye tests will be part of your exam: Some eye tests can increase the cost of your eye exam. 

  • Glasses or contact lenses? An eye exam that includes a contact lens fitting will typically cost more than an exam for eyeglasses.

  • Where will you get your eye exam? Your price varies depending on where you live. 

That’s why it pays to shop around when you’re paying out of pocket for an eye exam. Look for seasonal specials, too, on eye exams, especially around back-to-school season.

How can I get a low-cost eye exam?

There are several ways to get a free or low-cost exam. 

Purchase your own vision insurance

First, consider buying your own vision insurance. While many employees get vision insurance through an employer, you can purchase coverage on your own. 

Basic individual coverage costs about $15 a month, and once you sign up you can schedule a low-cost eye exam (copay often is $15) with a participating eye doctor.

Visit an optical store or vision center

Eye exams often cost less at in-store optical centers than at eye doctors’ offices. 

For example, Costco, Sam’s Club, Target and Walmart all offer eye exams and eyeglasses at their vision centers. Both exams and glasses are generally much less expensive as well.

Seek vision savings based on age or need

Some organizations fund low-cost or free eye exams and free eyeglasses

For example, EyeCare America offers free exams to qualifying patients age 65 and older. And the nonprofit group New Eyes provides free eyeglasses to children and adults in need.

SEE RELATED: The best time of year to get deals on glasses and sunglasses

How to buy discount eyeglasses

Once you’ve got a prescription and your pupillary distance from your eye doctor, it’s time to shop for glasses. 

By shopping around and comparing prices, you should be able to find a new pair of glasses that fits your budget, face shape and personal style.

The big question: Should you buy glasses online or get your glasses through your eye doctor or at a retail optical shop near you? 

Each choice has pros and cons.

Buying discount glasses online

  1. Pro: Larger frame selection. Online eyeglasses stores can offer thousands of frames, while an optical shop’s frame selection is limited by the size of the store.

  2. Pro: Lower eyeglasses prices. It’s fairly easy to find affordable frames shopping on your smartphone or computer. For example, some online glasses stores offer frames starting at $6.

  3. Con: What if your glasses don’t fit right? Glasses purchased online or in-store come with a warranty, but terms vary. If you buy glasses from an eye doctor, they will help you select a pair to best fit your face. They will also likely adjust the fit once your new glasses come in.

Buying discount glasses in-store

  1. Pro: Personal service. Your eye doctor calculates your pupillary distance. No need to follow online directions or input your prescription. And which frames look good on you? You can try on as many styles as you like, and your optician can help you decide.

  2. Pro: Financial assistance. If you’re on a budget, your eye doctor often will work with you to find eyeglasses that you can afford. A chatbot or a customer service rep likely won’t be able to work within your budget.

  3. Con: Possibly higher prices. As the old adage says, “you get what you pay for,” and that added personal service costs. Plus, a brick-and-mortar store’s frame selection may not feature many discount frame options. Watch for seasonal sales, though, both in-store and online.

When buying discount glasses online makes sense

Buying glasses online may be a good choice for you if you’re budget savvy and have a relatively simple eyeglasses prescription

However, it may not be the best option if you have a more complex prescription. 

For example, you may need to order glasses from your eye doctor if you need progressive lenses or other multifocal lenses

Even without vision insurance, you have plenty of ways to get rid of your outdated glasses and buy a new pair that will be easier on your eyes.

READ NEXT: How can I get my nearsighted child the help he needs without vision insurance?

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