Which looks cheaper - A, buying glasses from your Doc or B, online?

A friend of mine works in eyeglasses manufacturing, and I was appalled when he told me the typical markup in this industry. So I went looking for alternatives, and found I could trim the cost by 75%.

Those designer frames your optician changes $140 for might cost him/her $25. It's not unusual for a pair of blended bifocals made with name-brand lenses and designer frames to cost $400 or more, a four-fold or more markup far exceeding most vision insurance program's allowance. How can those of us on very limited incomes beat the high cost of glasses?

The first step is to simply ask your optician for a discount. Keep in mind the markup; they have room to cut you a deal if they know you will comparison shop.

You see, your optician wants you to believe the exam, the prescription, and the glasses selection and delivery are all parts of one transaction, but they aren't. Just because you have a wonderful optician, you aren't obligated to buy your glasses from him. You have every right to obtain a written copy of your prescription and shop around for a better price. Doing so could save you hundreds of dollars.

One place to check is the optical departments of big box stores. For my last pair, I priced WalMart (too high, imho) before ordering from Costco, where I got what I needed at less than half of the price my optician would have charged.

Another, more controversial, avenue to savings is to bypass storefronts altogether and order via the internet. I've bought glasses from 39dollarglasses.com, which undercuts even stores such as Costco by 50% or more. The customer enters the info from his/her prescription (be sure to ask your optician to measure your papillary distance, the distance between your eyes, and add it to the prescription), and selects from wide range of lenses, frames and options such as anti-scratch coating. The glasses are usually shipped in a few days. Eyeglassdirect.com is another vendor offering this service.

I've had hit and miss success with this option, mostly due to my own ignorance, although the price has been great. You'll need to know the size of your frame (overall width and the width of the bridge of your nose, measured in millimeters (my current pair is 51/19). You can find these printed somewhere on your current pair. You'll have to fit them to your face yourself.

I've sent back a couple of pairs that weren't right, and the company promptly replaced them free of charge, no questions asked. By the way- don't embarass yourself by asking your optician to check them out, or fit them to your face.

For the money saved, I think this is a viable option for those short on cash. Just don't expect your optician to see the benefits.

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