5 Tips to Save on Eye Exams, Glasses and Contacts

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I wear glasses. My wife wears contacts. And we save on both because we’re members of AAA.

I know, it doesn’t make sense. Why would a membership in the nation’s largest auto club save me $20 and up on my eyeglasses? Because like many membership organizations these days, the discounts aren’t related to anything in particular. It’s whatever will keep you paying your dues.

So before we go any further, that’s Tip No. 1 for taking care of the most crucial of your senses: Check out every membership organization you belong to with a focus on savings in eyeglasses and contact lenses.

Why is this so important? Because a new study contains some depressing news. Lighthouse International surveyed Americans last month and asked, “Why have you not had your eyes examined in the past year?” – and 18 percent said it was because they didn’t have insurance, while another 17 percent said it was too costly.

Whatever financial straits you might be in, there’s no good reason for not seeing straight – especially when you can take advantage of some big money-saving tips like these…

Get checked less often

Some optometrists insist you see them once a year for a check up. But even some experts say every other year is often enough if you don’t have any serious conditions, and even then, you don’t need all the expensive tests. Your best bet: Just ask. I did, and my optometrist told me, “Sure, come every other year.” So I do. She wasn’t lying to me before, it’s just that she didn’t know I didn’t want a yearly check up. Sometimes, you just have to speak up.

Get a free checkup

And if the only price you can afford is free, try EyeCare America’s free referral service. If you qualify, you get a free check-up. Here’s a cut-and-paste from their website for some guidelines as to who’s covered:

EyeCare America facilitates eye care for U.S. citizens or legal residents who are without an Eye M.D. and who do not belong to an HMO or do not have eye care coverage through the Veterans Administration.

  • Those who are age 65 or older and who have not seen an EyeMD in three of more years may be eligible to receive a comprehensive, medical eye exam and up to one year of care at no out-of-pocket cost for any disease diagnosed during the initial exam. Volunteer ophthalmologists will waive co-payments, accepting Medicare and /or other insurance reimbursement as payment in full: patients without insurance receive this care at no charge.
  • Those who are determined to be at increased risk for glaucoma (by age, race and family history) and have not had an eye exam in 12 months or more may be eligible to receive a free glaucoma eye exam if they are uninsured. Those with insurance will be billed for the exam and are responsible for any co-payments. The initiation of treatment is provided, if deemed necessary by the doctor during the exam.


  • Additional services necessary for your care such as, hospitals, surgical facilities, anesthesiologists and medications, are beyond the scope of EyeCare America services. The ophthalmologist is a volunteer who agrees to provide only services within these program guidelines.


  • Some eye conditions may affect vision as though eyeglasses are needed, when what is actually needed is the medical care of an ophthalmologist, and not eyeglasses. EyeCare America provides this medical eye care, only. The program does not provide eyeglass prescriptions, eyeglass/refraction exams (the prescription part of exam) or cover the cost of glasses. If you are concerned about the cost of these items, please discuss this with the doctor BEFORE the examination.

Shop around and threaten

My wife wears contacts, and for years, she bought them from our local LensCrafters. Then she discovered 1-800-contacts, an online seller. So she bought them there until her next check up, when she fessed up to what she was doing and asked if LensCrafters would match the price she was getting online – and they did. So now she gets them cheap and local.

Best of all, the LensCrafters folks seemed totally unsurprised and very willing to extend this deal – as if this happens all the time. And it probably does. But again, you’ve got to ask.

At first, my wife was reluctant to shop around because her optometrist kept the prescription. But in most states, your optometrist must give you that prescription – but only if you ask for it.

Clip coupons

I don’t buy glasses until I see a coupon for them. I’m partial to LensCrafters because after comparison shopping, I’ve learned that the big chains consistently offer better prices than mom-and-pops. They also tend to honor competitors’ coupons. Best of all, the sales staff works with you to score the best deals. So on more than one occasion, I’ve walked into the store with a LensCrafter coupon, a competitor’s coupon, and my AAA card.

Then we assemble the jigsaw puzzle of savings: If I just replace the lenses, use one coupon and my AAA discount, is that cheaper than new frames with another coupon? I always walk out with a good deal.

Buy more glasses, save more

One trick I do: I buy two pairs of eyeglasses and actually save more than if I bought one. How? Well, I buy one cheap pair for around the house. These are the ugliest, cheapest frames in the store, with lenses that have no expensive anti-glare coatings (because I only wear them inside). Often, I spend $25 on these frames from the sales rack. Sometimes, I have a 2-for-1 coupon.

Then I buy an expensive pair for going out in the world. The reason this saves me money: The expensive pair lasts longer because I’m not wearing them all the time. My current “outside” glasses are more than four years old and going strong, and I’ve already replaced the lenses once – but I haven’t had to spend $150 a decent-looking frames since 2006.

Finally, here’s some advice from Consumer Reports, which just this month rated the best eyeglass deals in the country: Get your glasses at CostCo: “Consumer Reports surveyed more than 30,000 bespectacled readers about their most recent purchase of a pair of eyeglasses and found that Costco topped the ratings of eyeglass retailers, which included large chains, independent local optical shops, and private doctors offices.”

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