Americans spend about $16 billion on eyeglasses every year. If you wear glasses, you probably know that some of them can cost $1000, while others go for $9.99. Your eye doctor might tell you that buying glasses online is a stupid idea. Commercials promise two pairs of no line bifocals in designer frames for less than the price of a dinner at Applebee’s. How do you know when it’s OK to buy cheap glasses?
I’ve been a private practice optometrist for over 13 years. I make money from selling glasses, and I’ve seen it all. Today, I’ll give you the honest truth about when it’s OK to buy cheap glasses.
Amount of Prescription
Years ago, people with really bad prescriptions had to wear thick lenses in their glasses. Remember Grandpa’s “coke bottles?”
Any prescription over three units looks better with thinner and lighter lenses. If you look at your written prescription, and the first number is higher than a 3, this means you.
A higher index material or a composite called polycarbonate is used to make them thinner, but it also refracts light at a higher degree. You don’t need to understand the optics behind this, but sometimes people have a hard time adjusting to thinner and lighter materials and feel like they are looking through a fish bowl. Better quality lenses lessen this effect.
If you have a moderate to high amount of astigmatism (the middle number of your written prescription is over 1.50), it is very important that your pupils align with the optical center of the lens. Otherwise, the glasses won’t work as well and could actually cause eye strain or double vision. Ideally, a trained optician would measure your pupil distance so that the glasses are correct.
If you order glasses online, they give instructions on how to measure this yourself or by looking into a gadget on the screen. You could get lucky, but generally it is never as accurate.
Just like with astigmatism, the pupil distance and the area where the lens changes into the reading power have to be measured correctly with no line bifocals, also called progressive lenses. Online stores often give a standard “one size fits all” measurement that may or may not work for you.
No line bifocals can have a steep adjusment curve, especially for first time wearers. Cheaper quality lenses have worse optics, which can make adjustment more challenging. If you are someone who gets car sick or doesn’t adapt to change quickly, you are setting yourself up for failure by buying cheap progressive lenses.
Anti-glare coatings help with annoying reflections from headlights and overhead lights. Cosmetically, they look nice because a person viewing you sees your eyes and not reflections. If you work in broadcasting or do public speaking, this is a must.
However, cheap anti-glare coatings peel off and make reflections worse than no coating at all. If you are going cheap, I would leave this option off. If you really need or like anti-glare, it’s better to invest in a quality coating, which usually costs $40 or more.
Are You Too Picky for Cheap Glasses?
I’ve seen people treat choosing glasses like Sophie’s Choice. They expect help with choosing the right shape or frame size and have lots of questions about materials. They need their glasses adjusted often and expect minor repairs for no charge. They also want a warranty if something breaks or needs parts. If this is your personality, it might be worth paying more for quality service.
Should I Try Cheap Glasses?
If you aren’t sure, ask yourself if you would be satisfied with the quality of clothing or furniture at a store like Wal Mart or Big Lots. If you have no issues with bargain stores, you probably would be OK with cheap glasses.
I would not buy clothes for myself at Wal Mart, but I might buy them for my daughter, who will outgrow them quickly. Cheap might be a good option if you need high volume.
If you wear contacts most of the time and need backup glasses to make it from the bathroom to the bedroom at night, cheap might be OK.
People who have always had cheap glasses don’t have any other standard of comparison. If you see well, aren’t a hazard to yourself or others, and aren’t getting headaches, it’s probably fine to stay with cheap.
Cheap or Expensive, Make Sure You Check Your Appearance.
Regardless of where you get your glasses or how much you pay for them, make sure they are clean, straight, from the current decade, and appropriate for what you do. I met with a financial planner once who had an ancient, enormous pair of glasses. The nose pads were green from decay, and all the color on the frame was chipping off.
She might be a money genius who spends so much time making money that she doesn’t have time to buy glasses, but to me, it looked either like she couldn’t afford them, or wasn’t paying attention to detail. I don’t want a broke, haphazard financial planner. Fair? Maybe not, but first impressions do count.
Do you think it’s worthwhile to spend a few hundred dollars on glasses or would you go the $9.99 route? Would you assume things about someone because they had bad glasses?