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Übercheap eye exams and glasses

Maybe you're broke. Maybe you're just frugal. Either way, there's no need to overpay for your specs -- or, maybe, to pay at all.

By Donna_Freedman Mar 8, 2012 11:29AM
Over at Generation X Finance, a blogger named Charissa recently revealed "Five places to find discount prescription eyeglasses." Those five online retailers sell frames and lenses for as little as $6.95, sometimes with free shipping and little extras like free eyeglass cases.

"It's also helpful if you like their Facebook pages because that's where you'll find coupon codes, free shipping offers and other opportunities for savings," noted Charissa, who also linked to an organization that offers free vision screenings for uninsured, lower-income U.S. residents.

Nice work, Charissa. But allow me to add that there are several other options for free eye exams -- and that there's a way to get additional discounts on those already übercheap specs.

Four of those five eyewear companies can be accessed through cash-back shopping sites, for rebates of 5% to 12%. According to a report from, the top three cash-back companies are, and Mr. Rebates. (Post continues after video.)

In addition to rebates, cash-back companies offer the same kinds of special deals that Charissa mentioned: extra discounts, free shipping and gifts with purchase. Use an aggregator like to find the best rates.

Since those rates are subject to change without warning, be sure to confirm the top deal at the actual cashback site, too.

Can't afford an eye exam?

As Charissa notes, an organization called Vision USA provides free exams by members of the American Optometric Association. Services may be limited in some areas and you must first go through an application process; see details in the link.

Another program, Sight for Students, provides both eye exams and glasses for low-income, uninsured students who are under 18 and have not yet graduated.

Coverage from the Children's Health Insurance Program varies from state to state but may offer free or low-cost eye exams for youths up to age 19.

Medicaid includes vision care for low-income children, families, pregnant women, the elderly and people with disabilities.

You get what you pay for?

Note that those dirt-cheap eyewear prices tend to be for basic prescriptions. Upgrades such as progressive lenses and certain coatings will likely cost you more.

Some of the cheaper specs might be, well, cheap. A reader comment left at Charissa's article notes that "the glasses may not last as long, but for $20 a pair you might as well buy three and have different styles for the entire year."

And hey, all you hipster wannabes: This is a frugal way to get vanity glasses, if you can't find sufficiently retro styles in the thrift store. Just specify your order "frames only" or "fashion only."

Readers: Have you used any of these cut-rate glasses sites? Are you happy with the result? Any tips to offer?

More on MSN Money:

Mar 8, 2012 6:52PM
These eye exams and any of the "free" or $29 exams at eyeglass places are probably given by optometrists, not ophthalmologists.  These exams will not be as thorough, so if there's any chance at all of problems, or even if there isn't, especially as you age, find the money to see an ophthalmologist.   Don't be penny wise pound foolish with your eyesight.  I can think of a lot of other things I'd give up spending money on, for example expensive eyeglasses ;) , to afford a more thorough eye exam.  Eyesight is too precious and irreplaceable.
Mar 8, 2012 1:50PM
I've never used any of those programs, but after, on a whim, going with my mother in law to Sam's Club, I am a fan of getting my contacts and glasses there. My contact lenses were more than HALF the price then my usual Walmart stop, and the glasses, well, admittedly, not as many frames to choose from, but ALL of the coatings, scratch, anti glare, etc, were FREE. Walmart, I used to pay a lot for the anti glare. I ended up saving close to $200 on contacts, and at least $100 on glasses. Totally would pay for the yearly membership I might have to get one day!
Mar 10, 2012 4:48PM
Donna, I am fascinated by these options. I would love to give them a try for my prescriptions sunglasses. This is giving me a push to dive in!
Mar 10, 2012 12:07PM

I used for my last set.  Previous from lenscrafters ($200) new ($28) 

My husband has a -7.50 prescription and a large head so from lenscrafters one choice of frame that fit ($600) from 7 choices ($104) with the lens being even thinner than his last set.  Both pairs work great.  I'm considering buying back up pairs something we could never afford before, but think I'll wait for a bogo.

Mar 11, 2012 7:09AM
Cashback monitor aggregates fewer sites than cashbackwatch.

At any rate, I would like to encourage bargain hunters to take an open-minded look at the power of team saving, as discussed in my cashback program comparison.

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Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.


Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.