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How to Buy Your Glasses From Budget Online Eyewear Retailers

Tara has done a lot of investigation into saving money on glasses.

Get advice on buying eyewear online and sparing your budget.

Get advice on buying eyewear online and sparing your budget.

You Don't Have to Buy Your Glasses From Your Optometrist!

Maybe your optometrist didn't offer any glasses you liked. Maybe you are a little short on cash right now. Maybe you want both contacts AND glasses, and your insurance won't cover both (most likely it doesn't completely cover one or the other, either). Maybe you broke your glasses. Or maybe you were hoping for a backup pair in case you, well, broke your glasses. No matter the reason, in the US, glasses are VERY expensive. Unreasonably expensive. And they don't have to be!

If you haven't heard yet, the worldwide eyewear industry has been monopolized by a single Italian company called Luxottica, who owns Pearle Vision and glasses sold at Target and Sears, among many others (although not Costco). With the emergence of several online eyewear retailers, you can buy glasses online at a much cheaper price and have them in about two to three weeks. You can and should shop around and support a fair market, getting a much better deal than even at a Walmart eye doctor.

How to Prepare to Buy Glasses Online

To prepare, you're going to need a couple things:

  • Your prescription
  • Your PD (pupillary distance)
  • A digital photo of yourself
  • Some idea of what kind of frames you want
  • Promo codes
  • A plan for adjusting the glasses

The photo is helpful to model frames on. To make sure you get the best deal, you'll need the promo codes. And lastly, once your glasses arrive, you may need to adjust them to fit your head and face, so you'll need to prepare for that.

The Hidden Total and Complete Eyewear Monopoly: Break Free!

Your Prescription

Don't be afraid to put your foot down and ask for just your prescription from your eye doctor without buying anything else. In the US, your eye doctor is required to give you your prescription for contacts or glasses, and that prescription is good for one year from your eye exam. They may put a lot of pressure on you to buy glasses right away, but they don't want to lose you as a customer altogether. So most easily comply.

If it's difficult, you can either look for another optometrist or see if your insurance covers your yearly eye exam by an ophthalmologist instead. Ophthalmologists are primarily eye doctors and often don't make glasses as much of a central part of their practice. Usually, vision insurance carriers don't include as many ophthalmologists within their plans.

Can You Use an Old Prescription?

One last note that I will not recommend unless you don't have any other reasonable choice is to use an old prescription. Several eye retailers did not ask to verify my prescription before ordering, so if absolutely necessary (say you have an older parent who absolutely refuses to get checked despite your insistence), online retailers may be your only option.

Don't Skip Your Eye Exams

I do not in any way suggest skipping your regular eye exams as they truly are important for your vision and health. I consider them a necessity. They are worth paying for at least every couple of years, and some offices offer sales on their eye exams as well.

Your PD (Pupillary Distance)

Your pupillary distance or PD is the distance between the center of one of your eye pupils to the center of the other pupil in your other eye in millimeters. Glasses makers use this distance to position your lenses as optimally as possible for the spacing of your eyes. This distance changes as you look at different things closer (smaller PD) and farther away (larger PD).

How Do You Find Your PD?

It is easiest and best if you can get your eye doctor to check this distance for you, but this distance is usually left off your prescription. Some doctors will not do it at all. In an article posted on Yahoo Finance by Aaron Pressman, they state that is totally on purpose.

"When California attorney Sylvia Chi wanted a new pair of glasses, she came across Warby Parker, an upstart online seller that features hip styles and low prices. She had her prescription but Warby Parker needed one more piece of information to make her glasses – the distance between her pupils.

"Chi called a Pearle Vision store where she’d bought her last pair but the store refused to give out the measurement. A local LensCrafters told her its pupil measuring machine was broken. Ultimately, Chi had to pay $25 at a local optometry clinic to get her pupillary distance, or PD.

"Turns out the giant of the $28 billion U.S. eyewear market, Luxottica (LUX), owns both store chains. And the Italian company, which also owns everything from brands like Oliver Peoples and Ray-Ban to the Sunglasses Hut chain, has cracked down on giving out the PD measurement.

"'Optometrists “used to do it for free in optical shops and now they’re refusing to provide that service or charging for it,' says Warby Parker co-founder and co-CEO David Gilboa. 'A lot of them work in stores owned by Luxottica.'"

Five states (Alaska, Arkansas, Kansas, Massachusetts, and New Mexico) require eye doctors to provide it for free. However, if you're not in one of those states, most likely you will have to get this PD measurement yourself or pay a doctor extra if they are even willing to do it.

How to Measure It Yourself

You will want to measure this distance while looking at an average normal viewing distance for what you need the glasses for. So, if you need reading glasses, measure while looking at something at a comfortable reading distance. If you are nearsighted and need glasses for viewing distances, measure while looking at something farther away, at least 10 to 20 feet. This can be accomplished by getting the help of another person measuring while you are looking at the appropriate distance. A clear ruler is very helpful for this if you have one.

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Some doctors do this by instead marking dots for each pupil on glasses with a dry erase marker and then measuring, but they do this on the non-prescription lenses that came with new frames you just chose. I do not suggest this yourself, though. Markers, especially dry erase ones, have chemicals that may dissolve or otherwise harm any coatings you may have on your prescription glasses.

If you don't have a friend to help you, you can also do it yourself in the mirror. I suggest looking at Zenni Optical's great guide on how to do it.

A Digital Photo of Yourself

It is also helpful to find or take a digital photo of yourself directly facing straight into the camera without any tilt or angle, for example, like in a passport photo. You can decide if you want a stoic or smiley look, but choose well because it will affect all your glasses decisions. Or you can just double check your final choices with both or multiple other emotion choices.

One option is to use a photo where you are already wearing glasses and Photoshop the glasses out by blurring the frames or covering them up with skin and hair color and texture leaving only the lenses. I have always noticed that I look different when wearing prescription lenses because my eyes and face are shrunken due to the distortion the prescription creates. So if you photoshop out the frame leaving the rest, you will see approximately how you will look like with the new frames and at least a similar prescription... and even a little glare as well.

Some Idea of the Frames You Want

What shape frames are you looking for and look good on you? Do you want larger frames with a wider range of vision, or something smaller or more narrow to avoid irritating sensitive or acne-prone skin? Do you look better in round or cat-eye frames? Cool or warm colors? What size do you need? If you are going to buy your glasses online, although online shops may have some unique frames, you should have a good idea of what you are looking for before you go shopping since you won't be able to try things on before you buy.

To find out, first start with what has worked in the past. Take a good look at the glasses you have liked and disliked. If you got a lot of compliments in a pair of your old glasses, examine the characteristics of that pair. Do you look better in silver or gold? Pay attention to colors, the curves and angles along your eyebrows and the size and shape of the lenses.

If these are a first pair or if you need some suggestions, your face shape will help you determine the best glasses shape for your face. The video above will help with that.

Additionally, you can simply to go try on a lot of options in person. When you have a little extra time, stop into any glasses shop and just try stuff on, especially newer styles or trends. You might be surprised by a style you weren't expecting to look good... or bad. Or show up to your exam an hour early to give yourself time to try on frames before they put any pressure on you, giving you a good reason to not buy anything that day... You already know there was nothing you liked (even if you just mean price). They can't argue with that.

If you find something that suits you, snap some photos both of yourself as well as the sizing written on the inside of the frames so you know what to look for later online. Frames should have certain dimensions printed on them as well which will be an important help. Although some brands do it differently, most give sizing in the form of "X - Y - Z" where X is the width of one lens, Y is the width of the nose bridge, and Z is the full length of frame arm from temple to ear. All measurements are in millimeters. Fortunately, when you look for glasses online, many online retailers will give you more measurements than these, such as lens height and the distance from temple to temple, so pay attention to avoid size surprises.

If you must have those unique frames you spotted online, accept that disappointment is possible. Although prices for some are low enough that it is not too much of a risk, be prepared to buy another pair or find a online retailer that is willing to take returns more easily or without paying too high of a penalty.

Promo Codes

The point of all this is to save money, right? Most of these websites have a variety of promo codes that will save you more or less depending on what you want to order. For example, while a 25% off deal is great, depending on how much your glasses cost, 15% off plus free shipping may save you more. Or, if you're ordering more than one pair, a BOGO frames deal may save you most of all.... Or not. So do the math and maximize your savings!

A Plan for Adjusting the Glasses

If you're very lucky, your new glasses will fit you perfectly right out of the box... But most likely they won't. If you bought your glasses at a local eye wear retailer, they will adjust your frames for you once they arrive, and they will typically readjust them if needed for free. However, if you buy them online, you should be prepared find other options.

Some eyewear locations will do it for free for anyone because they want to woo you in the door, but some locations will refuse because they don't want the liability if your frames break during the adjustment. I have on occasion gotten coupons from Sam's Club for a free glasses adjustment. But do take advantage of the stores around you.

If in the end you do have to do it yourself, this guide from Zenni Optical is a good one. The videos below also demonstrate this.

Adjusting Metal Frames

Adjusting Plastic Frames

Ok, I'm Ready! Now What?

So you're ready to take the plunge but don't know where to buy from? Check out my overview of several discount online eye wear retailers—hopefully one of them has your new pair of glasses!

© 2017 Tara Snoples Lacome

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