Cut The Cost Of Your Glasses By 63%!
Buying glasses can be an expensive venture. Here's a guide on how to save a packet and still look stylish by buying them online.
As you've probably noticed from my avatar, when I'm not sleeping, having a bath or sitting on white knuckle rides in Alton Towers - I wear glasses, and have done so for nearly 20 years.
I remember my very first pair, big NHS pink plastic frames, garish enough to give Dame Edna a run for her money which I broke within three weeks when I fell in the playground.
And, I'm not alone. According to the Eyecare Trust, a massive 68% of Brits wear either glasses or contact lenses. So with such a big market to cater for, what are the Foolish options?
These days, the internet allows us to buy almost everything - including glasses online. Discounts compared to the high street can be vast, in some cases around 60% to 80% cheaper than going to your local high street store.
Curious to find out the differences, I decided to put the online shops to the test, ordering the cheapest, most stylish pair I could find on a budget - comparing the looks, feel, and overall value with the service you'd expect on the high street.
Back to basics
Firstly, if you want to buy glasses online, you need to have an up to date prescription (less than two years old), which you may need to send before your order is processed (although some sites will let you enter your prescription without it).
As my prescription is so high (I'm so blind that when I'm not wearing glasses I can't tell a Ferrari from a London bus), the first thing I noticed was that there were only a few websites that would offer me glasses.
In general, if you have a very strong prescription, the range of websites willing to cater for your needs is greatly reduced. This is generally the case of prescriptions of more than +/-8 dioptres (the sum of the numbers in the `SPH' and `CYL' columns on your prescription), although some companies will only make lenses adding up to less than +/- 6 dioptres.
This good guide from glassesdirect.co.uk tells you what the numbers on your prescriptions mean, together with how to make sure you transcribe them correctly onto your order.
Because of my severe myopia, in the end I ordered a pair from eyeexperts.co.uk, costing £26 in total. Even if I opted for high index (1.74 thin) lenses, it would still have only set me back £120, which as the blindest of us know, is still pretty reasonable.
I compared this to a pair I recently bought on the high street, which with my special lenses cost, and wait for it, £325. That's a 63% saving on what I paid.
Dedicated followers of fashion
Apart from being able to see properly, we all want our glasses to look good. For this reason, buying glasses online can be a tricky prospect, as just because they look good on your computer screen, it doesn't mean that will be the case when you put them on.
The pair I ordered looked smaller than they did on the site. Admittedly, they also felt a bit more flimsy than models on the high street, although for £26 I wasn't expecting a great deal, and the frames looked respectable from afar.
In an attempt to solve this problem, several websites including glasses2you.com, glassesdirect.co.uk and specsonthenet.com have `virtual mirrors', to give you a rough idea of how you'd look wearing them before committing to a purchase. You upload your image onto the website, and are free to edit the picture and glasses to best fit your face.
Some websites, including glasses2you.com, fashionspecsdirect.co.uk and glassesdirect.co.uk even offer a facility where you can try the glasses at home before buying them. The service is free, although you will need to fork out a small fee for postage and packaging.
Although this is a nifty idea, if you don't like them when they arrive, you could end up spending money on nothing.
For this reason, if you're looking for designer frames (which is likely to be stocked in more than one outlet), the best thing to do is try them on at a local high street store, write down the name of the model, then look for them online, where they'll probably be cheaper.
Precise pupillary distances
When you order your glasses, you will be asked for something called your `pupillary distance' (the distance between your pupils).
For many glasses wearers - including myself, this may not seem that important. However, in many cases, if you don't get this measurement right, you could end up with a pair of useless glasses.
Getting your exact pupillary distance correct is especially important with higher prescriptions, as in these cases, being even a millimetre out can end up causing you problems.
I once had a pair of glasses made which gave me constant headaches. It turns out that the centre of my lenses had been measured incorrectly, and was the reason why I was walking round with permanent vertigo.
Unfortunately, trying to get this measurement from your optician may feel like drawing blood from a stone, and many opticians do not take the measurement until you buy a pair of glasses from them. Others will refuse altogether, while some will agree to do it for a small fee. To save money, you could ask a friend to help you measure it using a ruler - this site explains how. Either way, don't use the `average pupillary distance' some sites automatically put on your prescription - you will probably end up regretting it.
Bargains on the high street
If you're not confident about ordering online, there are also bargains to be had on the high street.
I recently bought a pair of glasses on the high street using a 20% off voucher which I found in a magazine. In addition to this, I managed to knock another £20 off by batting my eyelids and driving a hard bargain.
The most important thing to remember is that even when there special promotions going on, there is still room for negotiation, and many opticians are still willing to give you extra discount, especially if you are buying options such as high index lenses and special tints.
And finally, when you have an eye test, you should never feel obliged to buy from that particular optician. By law they are obliged to give you a copy of your prescription, so if in any doubt, remind them of this.
Buying glasses is an investment, and for this reason it's important to get it right. But whether you prefer the high street or are considering buying online, hopefully these tips will set you on your way. And, of course, all suggestions for good online glasses stores are welcome!