Frugal Choices For Your Eyes

by Frugal Babe on October 28, 2008

I was talking to a friend a few days ago, and she mentioned that she was worried about possibly losing her job, as there has been talk about her office closing.  She and her husband have always made more money that we do.  They live in a $600,000 house, and drive a new Prius and a hybrid SUV.  Their lifestyle is quite a bit fancier than ours, although she will happily join me for a day of scouting around a thrift store, and isn’t a pretentious person at all.

Anyway, she mentioned that money is pretty tight these days.  I told her I understood exactly what it’s like – we’ve been there too.  And then she went on to tell me that she had spent $1000 that morning on an eye exam, new glasses, and new prescription sunglasses.  We do know what it’s like to have to spend money at the eye doctor’s office, but her story reminded me that there’s usually a frugal way to get around even the most necessary of expenses.  My husband has pretty bad eyesight.  Without his glasses or contacts he can’t see much of anything.  Luckily his prescription hasn’t changed in years, and he’s been wearing the same glasses since 2003.  They were the least expensive glasses we could get at the time – nothing fancy about them at all.  I can’t remember exactly what we paid for them, but I think it was around $200.  And maybe $100 for the eye exam, although it might have been less than that.  He goes to see the eye doc periodically for an exam in order to replenish his supply of contacts.  But he’s very frugal with his contacts, and only wears them when glasses are impractical, for stuff like snowboarding, mountain biking, swimming, etc.  And then there’s sunglasses.  He has a pair of regular sunglasses that he can wear if he’s wearing contacts.  But since he wears his glasses most of the time, his sunglasses are almost always a pair of clip ons.  They are not what you would call cool sunglasses.  But they’re functional.  They block UV light and keep the sun out of his eyes – what more do you really need?  And the best part is that he got them at a thrift store for one dollar.

Prescription sunglasses are a luxury item.  They’re nice – and I know my husband would have loved a pair over the years – but they’re expensive, and clip-ons do the job for a whole lot less money.  Now that we’re on pretty solid financial ground and have the money saved in our HSA, we’re looking into LASIK.  But during the years when money was really tight around here (and still to this day), a pair of thrift store clip ons fit our budget a lot better than prescription sunglasses.

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

NaturallyFrugal October 28, 2008 at 8:44 pm

My boyfriend also has bad eyesight, and wears glasses everyday. He plays soccer, and was able to get a good deal on “flexible” glasses that won’t break when he is playing rough. He also has some glasses that turn dark in UV light, so he doesn’t normally need sunglasses – they’re a two for one! Maybe next summer your hubby could look into getting some of those, especially if they’re on sale!

FrugalBabe October 28, 2008 at 9:31 pm

We did consider transitions lenses back in 2003 when we got the glasses he’s wearing now. But they were quite a bit more expensive, and since the clip ons were a dollar, we figured that was the best way to go while we were in debt. Now that we’re not, we’re considering LASIK – I’ll keep you posted.
Since we work for ourselves, we don’t have any vision benefits from work (individual vision insurance isn’t really worth it – we’re insurance agents, and we’ve looking into all the options). So whenever he goes to the eye doc, we pay for everything :(

over the cubicle wall October 28, 2008 at 9:24 pm

I lucked out because my work will pay for prescription safety glasses. They are just like regular glasses, but have removable side guards, and polycarbonate lenses. For an extra $60 out of pocket, I got the transition sunglass option added. It is a very good deal for me because my astigmatism is so strong, and the prescription is expensive. Before that clip ons were it for me too.

Trixie October 29, 2008 at 6:05 am


After reading about your family’s frugal lifestyle for the past several months I can imagine you were a little shocked at that $1000 price tag;)

My husband & I live quite frugaly and are constantly amazed at how much people think they “have to have” in order to live happily. I know people that make $200K and still live paycheck to paycheck.

These are the same people that are always recomending we take the same terrific $5000 vacation or get a time share. Eeee gads, we are just as happy spending $50 bucks for gas to go up north and fish at the lake.

Take Care,


Cindy October 29, 2008 at 7:36 am

I needed new glasses this year as my rx had significantly changed and ordered them online at $17 and some change for the glasses and that included shipping.:0)

M- October 29, 2008 at 9:43 am

Maybe help your friend see the light, explain simple things you and your husband did when you where in a time of struggle… I would love to have a friend with all your knowledge….. I’m sure your friend is scared, and she might even think she is doing the best she can…and the money still slips away…. you are a treasure…. I’m sure your friend would love a little frugal help….

Amber C October 29, 2008 at 11:44 am

My son has both glasses and contacts. We purchase an inexpensive pair of glasses that he can wear when he doesn’t want his contacts. A year supply of his contacts cost about $150. I couldn’t imagine paying $1000.

doctor S October 29, 2008 at 1:24 pm

1 G? Wow. That is absurd. I paid $22 for my glasses that I currently wear and I spend $150 a year on contacts. Some people have other ideas when they think of the frugal life i guess.

FrugalBabe October 29, 2008 at 1:42 pm

Wow Doctor S – $22 for glasses? That’s pretty darn impressive! How did you find that kind of deal?

ElysaL October 31, 2008 at 3:45 pm

I’m a student teacher this year and no longer have vision insurance. Unfortunately, I didn’t plan ahead and realized just a few weeks before my honeymoon that I was out of contacts. I shopped all around and found a reliable eye doctor at a local Wal-Mart! They eye exam was well under a hundred dollars!! This was a great price given that I live in NYC. I ordered my contacts online to save even more money.

beloml November 3, 2008 at 11:02 am

Prescription glasses/sunglasses are NOT a luxury!

That’s just a scam that’s been perpetrated for decades. Get your prescription and go to a site like and you can get high-quality, fashionable glasses for $26, shipping included (plus a 5 percent discount for future pairs).

You won’t be disappointed. It’s a lot of fun to have several pairs to choose from rather than just one pair that cost an arm and a leg.

Saver Queen November 4, 2008 at 2:53 pm

We are in the same boat. I need to have an eye exam soon and I think I’ll be going to Wal-Mart. I ran out of contacts months ago and just wear my glasses. It only bothers me when I go somewhere nice, or go running. I’ve heard you can order contacts online for cheap but I have no idea how/where to do this. PS: Am I the only one not surprised that your friend paid $1000 for two pairs of glasses and an eye exam? That’s the standard here too – but you can haggle them down to a lower price, go during sales and use coupons.

Sarah November 12, 2008 at 9:41 am

Just a thought – When the prescription on his glasses *does* change, keep the old ones, and have them add a coating to them. The old ones should still be a close enough prescription for driving or going to the beach, and I dont think that it costs much to add the coating onto existing glasses.

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