How to Buy Glasses Online & Save Hundreds

How to Buy Glasses Online

My employer has a rather generous vision plan that covers $155 towards new eyeglass frames and 100% of the lenses through insurance provider VSP. With the new insurance, I was thinking I might actually be able to get away with simply paying the co-pay of $25. I was so excited! I may actually get to try on some glasses, in person, and see what they’d look like on my face. Wow, what a privilege!

My excitement quickly faded before my appointment as I started trying on glasses and looking at the little price tags on each of them: $300, $350, $400… things were not looking good. Eyeglasses are expensive – and the reasons why will make you angry. Sure, there were a few cheaply made or outdated frames that I could get for around $200, but the quality of these frames were not even close to being as good as the quality of the frame-less memory titanium, anti-reflective coated glasses that I had purchased online about 3 years earlier for under $40. Equivalent glasses were actually 10 times more at the local optometrist! I decided that I needed to start researching how to buy glasses online.

how to buy glasses online

The Prescription Info You Will Need to Buy Glasses Online

If you’re running into the same issues (and you will when you visit your local optometrist), here’s how you can go about buying your glasses online:

1. You’ll Need your Eyeglass Prescription from Your Optometrist

If your old eyeglass prescription still results in clear vision in your present lenses, then call up your optometrist to get your prescription. They are required, through federal law, to give it to you. You can have your prescription printed or emailed to you.

The last time I was at my optometrist, for an eye exam, they printed out all of the prescription details for me, no questions asked. If they give you a hard time, kindly remind them that under FTC rules, eye care providers must provide eyeglass prescription copies at your request (or contact prescriptions).

Note that you will not be able to use a contact lens prescription to buy glasses (the two prescriptions are different). If your prescription is outdated (e.g. starting to get blurry), then you will have to go to an optometrist to get a new one. General eye exams are usually covered by your vision insurance once per year, if you have it. Check with your vision insurance provider to be certain.

Here are some vision prescription terms you’ll need to know and have access to when ordering online:

  • OD (Oculus Dexter): your right eye
  • OS (Oculus Sinister): your left eye
  • The Sph or Spherical correction: how near (-) or far (+) sighted you are. If you have ‘PL’, that means you are at zero.
  • Add: for bifocals
  • Cylinder and Axis: for astigmatism, meaning that your eyeball is not perfectly spherical.

2. Measure your Pupillary Distance

Pupillary Distance (PD) is the distance between your pupils, usually measured in millimeters. Pupillary distance generally falls between 54 and 68 mm. Optometrists will usually take this measurement during your exam, but if they don’t, then you can measure the distance yourself with a mirror and a ruler.

Most optometrists will not write this number on your prescription, because they know that it gives you the ability to shop online. Ask them to write this number in, if they haven’t. Or simply measure your PD by yourself (you could have family or a friend do it too) to avoid the hassle.

The image below represents an example of a pupillary distance of 62mm (your pupils are the black dots in the center).

pupillary distance

3. Be Careful of Eyeglass Retailer Add-Ons

Eyeglass retailers online will often suck you in with extremely low advertised prices (e.g. “Complete set of glasses for only $9!”), however they don’t cover popular “add-ons” that really crank up the price – e.g. anti-reflective coating, anti-glare, anti-scratch, poly-carbonate lens, etc.

The best thing to do is to figure out exactly what you want, and then find out what 3 or 4 different online retailers would sell for that exact same model, so that you are comparing apples to apples. For instance, if you know you want a memory titanium frame with a slight tint and anti-reflective coating then shop around for that exact same pair elsewhere. Some include the add-ons and others don’t, so go with the final price, not the advertised price that gets you in.

4. Shopping for Glasses Online? Shop Around for the Best Deal!

When shopping for glasses, don’t worry about the brand. A pair that I purchased under a generic brand was much better than any of the designer comparables that I saw at the optometrist. There are a few retailers that seem to have extremely competitive prices, that I’d recommend comparing to the others:

If you’re looking to buy contacts online as well, most of the retailers listed above sell them. Additionally, check out:

5. Use your FSA or HSA to Pay for Eyeglasses and Contact Lenses

Prescription eyeglasses and contact lenses are qualified medical expenses that you can use HSA or FSA contributions to pay for, even if you don’t use insurance. This is pre-tax money, so you’ll pay less for your purchase than if you purchased out of pocket.

Buying Glasses Online Discussion:

  • Have you bought glasses online? Share your story and tips.
  • If you’re afraid to buy glasses online, why?
  • Where did you find the best pair of cheap glasses?


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