Hindsight is not Always 20-20, Sometimes it’s 20-50

by Katy on March 25, 2010 · 29 comments

My older son recently informed me that he’d tried on a friend’s glasses only to find that everything was suddenly very clear. He also owned up to headaches and an inability to read the blackboard at school. Sadly, my husband chose not to add vision coverage to his health insurance, so any vision issues were to be out of pocket.

So I called up his pediatrician and got the name of a recommended vision clinic, which I duly called and made an appointment for. I explained that we had no insurance, and the woman scheduled us with the type of eye doctor that costs $95 instead of $150.

Smart, right?

No. Because an eye exam at Costco would have been half the price. Which I didn’t think about until I came home to start researching where to buy the glasses he now needs. Let me back up a step though.

The eye doctor walked us out from our appointment right into their onsite glasses store. (Like a museum that routes you through the gift shop.) This, after explaining how their prices were actually the same as Lenscrafters because of a lack of advertising.

We did look around the store, and my son picked out a pair of frames that he liked, which then came to $263 with the polycarbonate lenses which come with a two year scratch warrantee. I asked about discounts. Cash? Employee? (I work for a huge health system) But there was none to be had. I had the saleswoman hold our information, but left the premises empty handed. (Note: there was a $99 tray of glasses that I believe was designed to make a person feel better about buying the pricer models, cause these glasses were U-G-L-Y!)

I came home and sat down at the computer to start researching how to buy prescription glasses and found this Bargain Babe post about how she bought her super-cute glasses at Costco. And I essentially learned that for the $95 I just spent, I could have been the proud recipient of both an eye exam and a pair of glasses for my son.

Drat! Can’t exactly return an eye exam.

There are some glasses to be ordered online for as little at $7.99, but I want my son to be able to try on the glasses so we know that they fit right, feel right and make him feel good about himself. If it were me, I might take the gamble, but I can’t do that for him. Maybe for a back-up pair.

And the ironic part is that I spent most of the eye exam reading J.D. Roth’s Your Money: The Missing Manual. I guess I’m book smart, but kind of stupid when it comes to the real world.

Update: My husband just left to take our son to Costco with strict instructions to not let himself get upsold. We’ll see how that goes. I’m crossing my fingers.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

Kris-ND March 25, 2010 at 1:45 pm

I feel for you. We went through this last year with our daughter, and we also chose not to add vision to our insurance(why, I have no idea. Seemed like the absolute right thing to do then..lol)

My daughter also started to complain about headaches, etc. We found out that our small, local hospital has an eye clinic in it, and was cheaper than going elsewhere. My first thought was to go to Sears or another bigger, “cheaper” store that we had access to, but I am glad I took some advice and called the local eye clinic. It is that whole, not assuming that big means cheaper..lol

My mom told me “DO NOT buy glasses from the eye doctor until you price check everywhere else”. I am glad I listened πŸ˜‰

We looked around, and eventually decided to look at the mall 2 hours away, since we had to go over there anyway. Went over to one of the big dept stores, and she found the glasses she liked.

The sales lady told me that the cheaper deal they were offering, wasn’t as cheap as the child price. Because my daughter was 17, she said we could get that price, and it came with a warranty at no cost. The other plans you had to purchase a separate warranty. Best of all, the 2 year warranty, still applied, even after she turned 18.

I need to thank you, because while you are not responsible for my glasses deal, you did get my shopping mindset changed to not just buy, but look for the best deal.

Thanks πŸ™‚


Kayla K March 25, 2010 at 2:32 pm

Thanks for sharing your experience, whether positive or negative. I’m due for an eye appointment and will look out for better deals. I did not realize that was something to “shop around” for.


magdalena March 25, 2010 at 2:32 pm

I ahve to get new glasses for my husband, and I ahve never bought glasses in Canada! My own glasses were purchased in Maine, cost a fortune, but I needed sport frames and prescription sunglasses. (Shepherds get a lot of frames broken, lenses scratched to pieces, etc. And skiing is hard on glasses, too.) I hear I can’t get the on-line deals the rest of the world can, so I’ll have to shop around a bit. Any ideas, fellow Canadians?


Mrs. B March 25, 2010 at 2:43 pm

I am not sure this would work for a child but…my husband had to get glasses about four years ago. We do/still have vision coverage. They do pay for the dr visit but on the glasses…they don’t pay like they used to. He found a great pair of frames that he really liked and they were expensive. He had changes in his prescription 3 times over the last 4 years. The good thing about the “expensive” frames were that we only had to pay to replace the lenses. The frames are holding up really well. This year his vision hasn’t changed so we bought another pair for a backup …not expensive ones though this time.


Cindy March 25, 2010 at 2:52 pm

Be careful when you get to Costco – most places – even the eye doctor’s office – start you out pretty cheap with the frame, then charge for the lens, extra for the scratch guard, extra for this and extra for that and pretty soon you are up to $200 again.


Tami March 25, 2010 at 3:07 pm

I wouldn’t do it for a first pair of glasses, but my son has been wearing glasses for 4 years now and has an idea of what to expect and could tell me if the prescription or glasses were funny. His last two prescriptions were bought online at ZenniOptical.com. I got him 2 pairs of glasses with magnetic clip-on sunglasses for about $90. My husband has expensive frames and lenses, but we’ll be buying a pair of back-up glasses, which even with his very strong prescription, progressive bi-focals and high index plastic, will run less than $100. We’ve been quite happy with the quality.


Deb March 25, 2010 at 3:11 pm

Last fall I went through this with my daughter. We kpt her eye appointment with the family eye doctor because she has some problems that are not vision related, then we went to our local BJ’s (very similar to Costco, which we don’t have in Maine) and got her frames and lenses for a LOT less than we found them anywhere else. She does wear contact lenses too, when her eyes are healthy, and we also got the best deal at BJ’s on those – and that was before the brand rebate.


Mrs. B March 25, 2010 at 4:22 pm

Katy…Just rec’d coupons in the mail (redplum.com) and JCPenny Optical has 2 pairs for $88 or a single pair for $59. I live outside of Seattle so the deal could be in your area too.


Mandee Jo March 25, 2010 at 4:25 pm

I would have to caution you on what “type of eye doctor” you are seeing, especially for children. Optometrists simply give you corrective lenses while ophthalmologist can diagnose more serious problems or suggest other corrective measures. My mother had a vision problem that could have been corrected at a young age with eye exercises. Unfortunately she only saw an optometrist until she was much older. When she went to see an ophthalmologist by chance he told her how she could correct her vision but that she may be too used to wearing glasses after fifteen years to correct it. As a nurse I’m sure you know an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.


jenniwaka March 25, 2010 at 4:27 pm

WAIT, WAIT, WAIT! I love a bargain as much as the rest of you do, but I have to say that it’s probably a good thing you went to the eye doctor your son’s pediatrician recommended. He or she was likely a respected opthalmologist as opposed to an optometrist or lesser trained person.
Thank goodness this does not seem to be the case with your son, but an eye check with a certified doc can give you insight to other diseases, etc. A vision check at the mall is simply that–a vision check.
Now that you’ve gotten the diagnosis, let the bargain-hunting for glasses begin! Just please don’t beat yourself up over $95 well spent on a proper eye exam…


Laura March 25, 2010 at 4:39 pm

We are currently doing the glasses thing with 2 of our daughters; my husband and I will both need new prescriptions later this year as well so we are definitely in the market for bargains. Insurance covered most of the eye exam and 6 months of contacts for our daughter, but we got her spare set of glasses at WalMart on the recommendation of a friend. Very cute frames + lenses came to $58, which was much less than what we found at Costco. The actual price on lots of the frames at WalMart is much lower than the sticker price. My daughter’s said $48 but they only charged us $9 for them. Our coverage mandates that frames have to last each of us at least two years, so the goal is always to get something we can live with for at least that long. We get my daughter’s second 6 months of contacts at Costco because they’re $120 if ordered through our eye doctor, $80 from Costco.


Gerard Kiernan March 25, 2010 at 4:48 pm

I got totally sick of $400 glasses last year and went on a quest online. Figuring it was an investment, I ordered glasses from three online eyeglass places.

The winner for me was zennioptical.com with snazzy memory metal frames and polycarb lenses for $27.95. I got a basic pair from them for $12. The quality is very good.

A couple big cautions , though. You have to understand how glasses fit and are measured. I started off with my favorite fitting old frame and did some precise measuring. You also have to get a friend to measure the distance to your pupils. If you get the fit wrong, you can’t return them.

I will keep using Zenni at this point into perpetuity. My friend who patronized them for progressive bifocals was very happy, but I thought she was kind of brave.


Sharron March 25, 2010 at 5:20 pm

Hi, Katy.

Been there and done that with my 16-year-old. The exam was great and well worth the expense; the glasses were more than I’d imagined. My glasses were even worse–almost $500 (w/bifocals no lines), so I declined to buy them and am still wearing ones that are almost four years old (my prescription has changed). Once my records transfer to our new location, I’m going on a major search for a less expensive option. I simply cannot in good conscience drop $500 on glasses. Be sure to let us know the results of the trip to Costco!


Nicole March 25, 2010 at 8:24 pm

I purchased two pairs of glasses from Costco two years ago and paid $20. One pair is a designer brand, and the other is an awesome looking non-designer pair.
I got a discount for getting two pairs, $250 in coverage through my mom, and the doctor fitting me for my glasses gave me a 50% off the lenses (polycarbonate, I think, not glass, because I am clumsy) because, in his words, he had “never seen that frame look as good on anyone else, and he didn’t want money to keep me from getting them.” Just a clever way to get me to buy them? But I saved $60 by getting two pairs instead of one.
I plan on heading back there in a few months when I need to get my eyes checked again.


Hiptobeme March 25, 2010 at 9:27 pm

My son just got glasses before spring break, so I feel your pain. I ended up going to Walmart for the glasses, but I did shop around at other places as well. We seriuosly considered getting the fancy 2 for 1 deal, for four hundred, ouch, but in the end, my son is five and a half and for his first pair, I didn’t want to spend too much. He’ll probably lose/break them. I got bendy frames and plastic lenses for $119. Of course, they got us to try on in the optician’s office but I was too wiley for them. $200 plus lenses for butt ugly glasses?? I don’t think so… I got the free fit advice and left, clutching my purse strings tightly. Luckily, we were the last appointment of the day, so they didn’t push us too much. They were more interested in closing up shop, which was fine by me! The eye exam was free, thank goodness, first one for kids is free here in my province (Yay, Canada!) for me, it would have been $75, but I have vision care benefits. I plan to get my eyes examined soon. So far my son is being very responsible with his glasses and only “forgets” to wear them sometimes πŸ˜‰ How about your son?


Kristen@TheFrugalGirl March 26, 2010 at 2:37 am

I just went to my eye doctor yesterday! lol I go see a real ophthalmologist because I’m pretty hard to fit for contacts. I’m very pleased with the care I get from him and it’s just not the same as what I’ve gotten when I’ve gone to bargain eye places.

I’ve been back for contact checks three times in a row now for no extra charge(we just ordered my lenses yesterday), because he’s trying really hard to make sure that we’ve got this right. And he correctly diagnosed and fixed an eye problem I had last summer that a regular doctor completely fouled up.

I guess I feel the the quality of care and the quality of instruments and diagnostic tools he has was far superior to the eye place in the mall I tried.

I wanted to comment on the vision insurance thing too. Your husband probably made the right choice in not signing up for that coverage because unless it was VSP insurance, you’d likely have paid as much in premiums as the insurance would have paid towards your exam (trust me on this! I’ve pored over vision insurance plans for years now and tried out lots of them.). Most vision plans just don’t cover very much.


sandy March 26, 2010 at 4:19 am

Check into eye exercises before you subject your son to a lifetime of corrective lens if he is becoming near-sighted. At this stage, it is not too late to correct his vision naturally. Glasses will just make his vision worse. Of course it may mean diligent practice, and less reading close up.


chrisck March 26, 2010 at 7:41 am

I want to weigh in on the side of independent eye doctors (whether optometrists or opthalmologists) compared to chains or online. That might be fine for a lot of people, but I have an astigmatism that makes it hard to fit my contacts. I never got consistent quality care from the rotating optometrists at a chain I went to for years. (Sometimes it seemed they weren’t even taking the time to look at my records because it was such a mill to turnover the patients. ) Like the comment above, my current optometrist saw me over 4 times to tweak my contact lens prescription, each time supplying me with a different pair to try, and I was not charged for all this extra service. This would not have happened at a chain.
However, I do have vision coverage through my job (though it does not cover what it used to–and I tend to buy the low priced frames to save money), but I will not have vision coverage when I retire. No doubt I’ll be exploring other options by then, too.


WilliamB March 26, 2010 at 9:02 am

Another vote here to get checked by an opthamalogist rather than an optometrist, for the reasons stated above. It’s particularly important for small children. Some Little Critter eye problems can be fixed (such as through eye exercises) rather than just adapted to. It’s also important for people with conditions or genetics that make eye problems more likely, such as diabetes or family history of glaucoma.

I also do not have a high opinion of mall/chain optometrists. Chains make their money on volume, which means getting a lot of people in and out, which means less attention per customer. (Note I said “customer” not “patient.”) Good optometrists don’t like that and since they’re good, can get a job elsewhere. This is not to say that every single mall/chain optometrist is lousy, but that there are a lot more lousy ones in malls/chain stores than in independent offices.

In short, going to a mall/chain optometrist is likely to be penny wise, pound foolish.

OTOH, grinding lenses is easy and mechanized. Go where they’re cheapest.


Anne March 26, 2010 at 9:40 am

As a very near-sighted person who has worn glasses since the 4th grade, I think it’s really important to find a quality optometrist. I remember being in tears after one session with an impatient doctor at Sears when I was 12 years old. Yes, I was a sensitive child… maybe your son is tougher! : )

It’s important to be relaxed during the eye exam. When you get tense, often you can’t see as well (I know that sounds crazy, but it’s been my experience). I currently pay out of pocket for my eye exams because my optometrist is so good. But I do buy my glasses at cheaper places like Costco or Sears.

Good luck finding a frame!


Mary Anne March 26, 2010 at 9:55 am

Don’t skimp on the eyes! I never wore glasses till I was 21 and then went to an eye doctor only because nurses knew to start with the eyes for headaches (I was sure I had a brain tumor). I have never seen anyone but an ophthamologist and I go nowhere near the ‘get your glasses in about an hour’ places. I have learned that those fast and cheap places give you what they have in the store that is ‘closest’ to what you need. Astigmatism is always a challenge in those places. This is one area of your budget where a bargain ISN’T a bargain. BTW, an ophthamologist may be covered by your regular health insurance and only cost you the co-pay.


Pat March 26, 2010 at 10:01 am

Last year my husband broke his glasses beyond repairable. So we shopped around for an eye exam. Sam’s Club was cheapest even though that meant we had to buy a membership there. Yes, the exam was about half what the others were charging BUT the price of their glasses was way, way more. We ended up paying almost $400 at Sam’s. About a month later my daughter needed new glasses too. Yikes! I took her to our regular eye doctor who gave me a reduced rate on BOTH the exam and glasses because we didn’t have insurance. It doesn’t hurt to ask.


Linden March 26, 2010 at 1:11 pm

Another vote here to get checked by an opthamalogist rather than an optometrist. It took an opthamalogist to realize I had thinning retinas—no optometrist figured it out. My eyes are worth more than bargain basement shopping.


Lisa March 26, 2010 at 1:53 pm

I had fantastic vision insurance through my former employer. I got two full pairs of glasses per year. Because of that I acquired a pretty fantastic collection of glasses. I moved a couple of years ago to a better job that I like more but has horrible vision insurance. But I have all of the fabulous frames from my other job so I have been letting my new insurance cover the eye appointment and getting a copy of my prescription and I send the old frames and prescription here http://www.eyeglassfactoryoutlet.com/and they send me back my glasses with new lenses for $34.50. If you don’t mind not trying on your glasses first if you order their frames you get a full pair of glasses for 34.50


Jennifer March 26, 2010 at 6:17 pm

I’ve always had good luck with Costco. Even with insurance, Costco is usually cheaper (I have VSP but all the little things add up quickly and insurance doesn’t cover them). Plus I wear contacts but still need back up glasses so I always get my contacts at Costco (literally 1/2 the price at least). I’ve never had them try to upsell, they aren’t on commission so what do they care? The eye doctor on the other hand is always adding on things that are “only” $40, etc.


Katy March 26, 2010 at 8:37 pm

The Opthamologist who did my son’s eye exam did an extremely thorough job, and I’m quite happy with it.

The Costco glasses trip was a bust, as my son found nothing he liked. I’m hesitant to try an online site for his first pair, but will definitely try that route in the future.

Onwards and sideways!



Kris-ND March 27, 2010 at 4:32 am

could you just hit every eyeglass store you can, whether you would actually buy there or not, to see if he finds a pair he likes, then take the brand name and serial number and see what it costs online? Then it isn’t a total guessing game whether he will like what actually comes.

Sorry, he didn’t find anything, but you must have tons of choices in your area, and I am sure you will conquer the problem πŸ˜‰


Jeanine March 27, 2010 at 3:09 am

I’m in total agreement about the optho vs the opto.

It’s worth every bit. I also have no insurance, and pay out of pocket for exams and frames. I spend the money on the exam and not the frames and lens.

Eyemasters currently has 2 for 99 and I have an awful perscription. -4 in the the left and -4.5 in the right. I’ve never had a problem with being able to select frames that complement my round face or can withstand such a heavy lens. PearleVision also has a “no shock at the register plan” where the price included the plastic no scratch lens and a decent warrenty.

Hope everything works out.


sandy March 29, 2010 at 4:58 am

At least make sure your son doesn’t wear them for close up reading or you will be going back for a stronger prescription, and paying out more money, in a short time.


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