Obsession: affordable online eyeglasses

Are you a lucky single-vision eyeglass wearer with a reasonably simple prescription? The online eyeglass world is your oyster. You can get complete pairs of glasses for $10 and up at all of the websites I link to in this article. 

One of the cutest websites I’ve seen is Warby Parker. Everything is $95, all included, AND they give a pair to charity when you buy a pair. They don’t do progressives, though.

Most everyone over a certain age [cough40cough] knows that your eyesight is one of the first things to be affected. I was always farsighted — I needed glasses to work on computers from age 23. Nowadays, because I need help with both distance and close-up vision, I’m stuck in progressives.

these buggers take some getting used to.

Progressives are no-line bifocals. Eyeglasses with three different areas of focus, gently blended so you can’t see the changes as a line on the lens. And they’re expensive.

I have found that, since I’m wearing my glasses all the time now, having sunglasses built in is essential, so I add photochromic Transitions that darken when I’m outside. That’s at least another $100-150. My last prescription glasses cost $600. We’re not talking about Prada frames here, either. No-name vaguely attractive frames. Most of the cost was the lenses.

I found out about ordering eyeglasses online from this blog, several years ago. Since then, I’ve ordered 4 pair for myself and the hub. Because they are C.H.E.A.P. And I mean that in every sense of the word.

my new dedicated computer glasses, with spring hinge and nose pads for comfies (these were perfect!)

Two pair from Zenni Optical were the best of all my purchases. The frames are made in China and I believe that’s where the lenses and assembly happen as well. Progressives without Transitions cost $50. The frames are the ones I’m wearing in my Twitter pic up on the left there. Heavy, but cute enough. Eye Buy Direct was okay, but mostly what was available for months were ugly frames large enough to accommodate a progressive prescription [you need 27-29mm-tall lenses at minimum, from these online shops]. I hate them, but they work. Hub’s glasses have scratched much more easily than usual [he is admittedly tough on his eyewear], but they haven’t broken. I guess that’s something.

my new everyday glasses, with spring hinges (see note below...these ended up being too large and were returned at no cost to me)

None of these cheap glasses had the area of vision that the in-person optical stores can provide. But to save $500, I sucked it up.

I went back to my Optometrist last week and found my Rx had changed again, and this time, I was determined to do it affordably but smartly. I went to some optical shops in town, and found nothing I liked. Or if I liked it, it was exhorbitantly priced…$500 for frames? Really? So I returned to my online searching.

Hoping for the possibility of a brand-name frame, I ended up at Clearly Contacts, which does sell eyeglasses. All their frames were $38, on sale, and their  progressive lenses were much more affordable than anywhere else. I scored two pair — one progressive/transitions, and one single vision for computer use — for $198, all in. They also have a return guarantee, which I’ll gladly take. Not all online companies do.

Here are my tips for finding the best fitting, best looking eyeglasses possible:
– find out what shapes fit your face best. don’t just pick them because they’re cute on the screen. places like EyeBuy and ClearlyContacts have a try-on tool. use it. I did, and found that the frames I’d thought I was going to choose were way too small for my face, BEFORE I ordered them. [follow-up note: the tool isn’t error free. use the next tip as your ultimate guideline…]
measure your favorite current glasses and match the new frames to those measurements. it’s easy to buy something too wide for your face, or too narrow, without having hard numbers to refer to
– look for extras like spring hinges and adjustable nose pads for comfort
– some sites include the weight of the frame. when you can’t try it on in person, it’s good to know how heavy it is before you buy it. use your current frame as reference and weigh it to know what feels okay on your face
– some sites make their money with what they call extras: UV protection, anti-glare and anti-scratch. try to find a site that doesn’t gouge for these necessities.

I wish I could afford to go to my local optician to buy my glasses, but I just can’t. It’s nice that I now have some reasonably affordable online alternatives.

Follow up [March 12/11]: Of the two pairs ordered from Clearly Contacts, my dedicated computer glasses were absolutely perfect right out of the box. The other pair was much too large for my face and went back — Clearly Contacts paid for the return shipping, btw. An order mixup [their error] meant the subsequent replacements came with the wrong pd. Again, they paid for shipping BOTH WAYS and are fixing the error at no cost to me.

After having dealt with Eye Buy Direct, Zenni Optical and now Clearly Contacts, the only one I’d recommend is Clearly Contacts [a Canadian Company; the US equivalent is Coastal Contacts], and they’re the only company I’ll use from now on. The quality of their lenses is much higher than either of the other two companies I’ve tried, especially the progressives. They also offer brand-name frames that feel more solid and durable, and are more comfortable to wear. And their customer service is polite and efficient. Yup, you can consider this an unsolicited endorsement.

(189 Posts)

44 thoughts on “Obsession: affordable online eyeglasses

  1. Nina

    Thanks for a great post! Just last week I too found out I needed progressives. I found a pair with lenses at Costco for 185. We’ll see how they work out. I also tried for first time multifocal contacts and they have changed my world. No need to train your brain like the progressives. It’s like magic!

  2. Seanna Lea

    This is excellent information. I don’t need bifocals or progressives yet, but I am fairly near sighted and live in my glasses for everything – I’ve been known to fall asleep in them. I love my optometrist, but I do not go as frequently as I ought to because glasses are so expensive though my most expensive was about $300.

  3. Cricket

    Lined bifocals are still the best for me. I tried progressives for a year and hated them. They’re also cheaper, work in smaller frames, and you have more options of materials.

    More importantly, the usable area is larger. I can see out of the entire bifocal section — an entire pattern line — not just the green hour-glass shown on the diagram.

    That hour-glass shape becomes skinnier as you get older and the difference between the prescriptions becomes bigger. You also get a narrowing at the transition regions.

    Modern computer grinders make it better, but they’re still fighting basic optics. The lens needs to be a certain curvature at each prescription. They can only do that and keep the thickness constant in the centre. With bifocals, they don’t have that problem.

    Also, when you buy online, how do they measure the distance between your pupils and how far up to put the line? The second depends on how the frame sets on your face. It’s not as important with single-vision, but can make a big difference with progressives.

    Another option is a pair of drug-store reading glasses that you put in front of your regular glasses. Yes, looks silly. The regular glasses take care of the basic prescription (and, in my case, the foot-ball-shape of my eye), and the readers adjust for age. My eye doctor suggested that when I was in contacts and unsure if 2-vision was worth it.

    1. Meg

      That’s basically what I do- but with contacts. i wear reading glasses over my contacts, which I wear every waking moment. I know this has saved me money since my readers have changed strength much more quickly than my contacts. But I guess this is only good for those of us who can wear contacts!

    2. Amy

      This is something I should have included in the post. My eye doc only recently started selling glasses, so I don’t think of her as a source for frames. I have been honest with her about my budget and that I need to order online. She measured my PD (pupil distance) for distance AND computer work, and charged me $5 for the service on top of the eye exam fee. She told me that’s less than her association recommends she charge, which tells me 2 things:
      – the opthalmologists association in Ontario/Canada is very aware we’re asking for these numbers
      – they’re putting in place a system where their member doctors can oblige us in a reasonable way.

      You’re right about the bifocals, and I might have to switch one day, but I’ve been okay so far.

  4. Elise

    Wish I would have had this information two weeks ago. I just spent a lot of $$$$.$$ for two pair of glasses. By RX is a minus 6-7 with a stigmatism with prism WITH progressives. I think my lenses alone were over 600. I did get one frame that was a little more expensive and opted for a second less expensive frame. My place gives me two pairs of lenses for the price of one so it is worth it for me to buy two pair.

  5. JenB

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! I was just lamenting not having vision coverage with a new job. This has saved our (hard-earned) bacon!

  6. joan

    I felt like I wrote this article, I just finished shelling out big time dollars for glasses, (progressive lenses) I am amazed at what these things cost. Now I can have a back up pair as lordy what would happen if these were damaged. I would have to stay in bed and not be able to knit. NO no no

  7. Carol

    I second Nina’s recommendation for Costco. Last year I switched from contacts to glasses when I became far-sighted as well as near-sighted. Now I have the whole shebang: progressives, ultra thin, transitions tinting … I love the convenience. But like Amy I had a hard time finding frames that were tall enough to accommodate the progressives and also suit my narrow face. That plus having to do the measuring on my own kept me from ordering online.

    Costco was a good alternative for me. It took about 10 days to get the glasses, but their customer service was really good. I even got to give back a pair that just didn’t suit and order again. I also recommend ‘frame-less’ glasses to keep the weight down. I’m hardly aware I’m wearing mine.

  8. Courtney

    Thank you so much for this post!! I don’t yet need progressive lenses but I wear my glasses all the time because of how bad my vision in. Glasses are so expensive and it’s nice to know that there are other alternatives out there for cheaper yet stylish eye wear!

  9. Stiney

    Just because someone’s a single-vision wearer, doesn’t mean the visual world is their oyster. I saved $648 through VSP (my vision insurance provider) at my last appointment–that was just for the exam and lenses, since I kept my frames. I have to have high index lenses since my prescription is so bad, and the little charges all wind up adding up.

    1. Amy

      You are right about that. My apologies. I’ve amended the offending phrase. It must be a huge pain to deal with glasses like that!

  10. Diane

    Thanks for the post! Unfortunately, we found last year that we need to change eye doctors as the one we were going to now refuses to give us the measurements that one needs to order online. Not only that, but they do not carry any sturdy frames for men (like the twisty ones). Bah.

  11. Rachael

    I have friends who have had great success ordering and Zenni Optical, so it’s something that’s been on my mind! I have to get my eyes checked again soon, and I’ll definitely be re-reading this post before I order anything. Hooray for being able to see clearly!

  12. Michele

    Perfect vision for 40 years and then the blasted presbyopia curse hit me. Last time I needed new lenses, I almost cried in the Dr.’s office when they told me it was going to cost almost $500…and that was with me keeping my old frames! As most of your readers, I NEED to be able to see clearly to do what I love.

    I am definitely going to investigate this online eyeglass option further.

  13. alison

    I honestly thought this was spam and, you know, it’s not that applicable to people in other countries.

    *not very impressed*

    (and yes, I know of online shops for cheap glasses in my country)

    1. Amy

      How is this spam? I have no financial gain from any of the links posted. I’m sharing my personal experience, hard-won over years of trying to figure out how to be able to see clearly and still pay my mortgage.

      1. alison

        Well it honestly sounded like a post where someone hacks a website and tries to sell their stuff to you, and I see I’m not the only person who thought that too.

        Maybe it was just the tone of your post but an advert for glasses suppliers was not what I expected to see on a website about knitting.

        I suppose a lot of these spam messages are written as if from someone with a personal story of how the company saved them loads of money and how you could save money too.

        Apologies if I offended you, but I really did think it was a spam comment.

        1. Amy

          Just to clarify, this isn’t a knitting blog. It’s the blog of the editors of Knitty. We talk about knitting and all sorts of other stuff that we find interesting. Don’t be startled when you see a post on ukuleles or shoes. 🙂

  14. Anna

    I got new glasses a month ago. Mine decided to break unexpectedly. I ended up with $400 glasses from a local place. Online wasn’t an option for me, plus I really needed to try on the glasses, and get my eyes re-tested. They were incredibly helpful and didn’t try to steer me towards the super-expensive frames, and I love the frames I’ve ended up with. Since I’m planning on making them last for a few years (my last pair I’d had for about five years, and my eyes aren’t doing much changing right now), I’m okay with it. Maybe next time I’ll give the online thing a go.

  15. Caroline

    If you’re buying frames where you can try them on, I’ve discovered an easy way to choose the most flattering ones. Mirrors don’t help, since I’m extremely nearsighted. So what I now do is bring a small digital camera and take a picture of me wearing each frame I think I like. It’s easy to flip through the photos to see how the frames appear to others and make the final decision.

  16. Deborah

    Great info! I too have found myself needing glasses in recent years. I get mine at COSTCO and have no complaints. I am really hoping this year to get into a pair of contacts. Have a great day all!

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  18. Bethany

    This is very timely. I have been looking at the Warby Parker site a lot lately. No, they don’t do progressives, but I think I might order some with single vision lenses anyway, then see if I can have my progressive prescription put in at our local place.

    I have not bought any glasses, except a pair of prescription reading glasses, from my optometrist’s office in years. The reading glasses were a cheap pair of discontinued frames they kept in a drawer, with my wonky prescription put in.

    I usually buy from a place that does 2 for 1, even if they are two different prescriptions, two different frames. You just pay the price of the most expensive pair. Last year my daughter and I got new glasses for less than $500 altogether. Mine were progressives. So, for people for whom online shopping is not an option, there are brick and mortar stores that offer better deals than their optometrist’s office.

    If they wouldn’t give me my prescription I would stop going to that office.

      1. Bethany

        Yes, they will. I’m not sure if the price is different for just the frames? I thought that if the price were the same I’d get some lenses I could use for a while. I’d be able to see myself in the mirror when I tried them on! 8^)

  19. Claudia

    Got computer glasses at Costco and still trying to get used to turning my head to use the narrow field of vision the progressive lense has. For knitting, I got some really STRONG readers that were inexpensive and work great!

  20. Infomom

    Because I use the computer constantly at work, trying to look through the narrow progressive “middle” spot just does not do it for me. So for many years I have had two pair of regular bifocals: reading/distance for evenings and weekends, and reading/computer for work. I just pop the work glasses on in the morning and remove them before I head home, I don’t really need distance vision in the office, and the large field of focus is really functional. They cost the same as any bifocals (often the same as single-vision).

  21. Amy S.

    My husband’s last two pairs of glasses came from Zenni Optical. We have been pleased with the quality. Next time my prescription needs an upgrade I’ll be ordering from them myself.

  22. Kathy

    Such awesome information! Wish I had all this a month ago, when I coughed up $450 for my first pair of progressives. Nothing like getting an expensive “I’m getting older” shock all in one morning. I will remember to do it online next time!

  23. Lynn

    What I really need are eyeglasses that get rid of the floating spots in my tired old eyes, and massage my temples with a gentle, soothing touch.

  24. susan

    Those lenses are called Verifocal here in the UK, not sure if that was a brand name, but it’s what they are known as.

    I just got a new pair and the cost was a whopping £500, or nearly $800. Most of that was for the lenses as I have to have them custom made.

    It’s expensive, but I need to see.

  25. Louiz

    That’s a very useful post. I have a complicated prescription and have had since I was about 20. I intend to buy my next pair of glasses from an online seller, and I never thought of checking the weight of the frames (I already get super thin lenses due to weight issues). I will be using a UK based site due to geographical issues, but I’ve heard good reviews for the top two that come up on a google search I’m fine with that:)

  26. Steph

    I had my last pair of glasses for 10 years because I could simply not afford to spend $1000 on new ones – nor did I want to even if I could afford it! Because of my screwed up prescription I managed to get 2 pairs for $580 when a cheaper optometrist chain came to NZ and thankfully I no longer have to wear ratty old glasses or worry about breaking my only pair. SUCH a relief!

  27. Colleen

    My eye doctor is adamant that I must have executive bifocals, not progressives, because the lines mean that you get a *much* larger area of near vision. She says that given how much handwork I do, I need that to prevent overworking my eyes (I tend to “hyperfocus” which means my muscles will get tired more quickly and I can damage them).

  28. Melissa

    You dear, sweet, lovely person! Besides creating my absolute favorite website, you also provide so many great tips! Every rx change for me means 3 new pairs of glasses, computer, progressive, and distance sunglasses. Outrageous – and I even re-use my old frames. Thank you for this information. Less on glasses means more for fiber!
    Love you, Melissa

  29. B

    I have purchased glasses from clearly contacts before. They are great and very affordable. Having worked at an vision clinic before I know that staff at such clinic’s get their glasses at the staff price ranging from 70 – 150$. My glasses, from clearly contacts, cost about 75$ each, so I was pretty confident that this was not a get rich quick scheme that was too good to be true.

    If you are at all nervous about taking the plunge select the ‘send without payment’ option at the end of the purchase and clearly contacts will send you a bill with your glasses. Just be sure to pay the bill right away (or send the glasses back if you don’t like the fit) because they charge a hefty interest rate if you don’t pay the bill with in 15 days (I think it’s 15 days, they’ll tell you on the invoice).

    Overall, a really, really good investment.

  30. Patti

    Thanks for all of the great info. I love my glasses, but I did pay a fortune for them, and of course am due for a eye exam. I know that my prescription has changed and I will need new eye wear. I am going to check out some of the site you have talked about! Thanks and I enjoy visiting here.

  31. Carole

    Thanks for the post about eyeglasses. I’ve worn glasses all of my life (now in my 50’s), and the cost of glasses is ridiculous. This is especially true considering just how little frames cost to produce. I’ve always been leary of on-line eyeglass sites. After reading your post, I’m going to give them a try. Thanks again!

  32. Sarah

    Nice info. Thanks for sharing! I’ve worn glasses since I was 11, and my vision has gotten worse and worse. I don’t need progressives, but my high-index lenses cost about $300 per pair, and that is from the cheap place in town! I’ll be needing new lenses in the next month or so, so I’m going to check out these sites.


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