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Get discount glasses without insurance? Here’s how

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 just 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) and 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 $300, according to a 2016 survey by the NerdWallet personal finance site.

The U.S. national average cost for an eye exam is $200 for new patients and just less than $130 for repeat patients, the survey 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.

Get an employer discount card

A hand holding a card with the word "discount" on it.

Some companies offer free cards that give you price breaks on eye care. 

For example, the health and pharmacy discount card company SingleCare also offers discounts on eye exams, glasses and contact lenses.

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 glasses at their vision centers.

Seek vision savings based on age or need

An older man wearing glasses.

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.

How to buy discount eyeglasses

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

The big question: Should you buy glasses online or get your glasses at your eye doctor or an 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 likely will help you get a better-fitting pair. 

Buying discount glasses in-store

  1. Pro: Personal service. Your eye doctor calculates your pupillary distance. No need to follow online directions. And which frames look good on you? 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. That added personal service costs. And a brick-and-mortar store’s frame selection may not feature a lot of 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 fairly 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. 

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