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Cheap Glasses

Full cost-cutting plan

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Consumer Team | Edited by Steve N

Updated 30 Mar 2015

Glasses are an expensive necessity, but if you shop selectively, then it's possible to slash the costs. Whether it's the Dame Edna look you're going for, or more John Lennon, use online discounters and you'll be dazzled by the amazing savings.

What's the trick?

The key here is to buy your specs from an online discounter. All you need to do is supply an up-to-date prescription (from the last two years) and enter the relevant details on the form.

If your prescription is out-of-date, you can expect to pay £20-30 for an eye test - or keep an eye out on the Free Eye Tests voucher page.

If you work with computers, you can even get your employer to pay for your eye test, though they're only required to pay for your glasses if you only need 'em for your job.

Why are they so cheap?

As with contact lenses, if you buy specs from the high street, then you're covering expensive overheads and salaries needed to run the shops.

Opt to purchase your glasses online and you can substantially cut the price as you won't be financing costly sight equipment. These companies also buy in bulk directly from manufacturers, enabling them to get special deals and discounts.

Extra tip: Reclaim the costs of your glasses

Healthcare cashplans allow you to reclaim the cost of dental, optical and other forms of healthcare, whether it's via the NHS or not.

You've a right to get a copy of your prescription

You'll need your prescription to place your order online. Once you have had an eye test, opticians are required by law to give you a copy of your prescription without requiring you to make a purchase.

Your prescription should be less than two years old, or one year for the over-70s.

What your prescription means:

  • Sphere. Specifies the strength of the lens; a plus sign indicates long sightedness, a minus sign for short sightedness.
  • Pupiliary distance. This is the horizontal distance between your pupils in millimetres. If you don't know what it is you can either have a go at measuring it yourself with the help of a mate and a mirror, or use the average which is about 63.
  • Cylinder. This indicates whether your eye is perfectly round, if so this is left blank, or if you have eyes which are slightly oval- or rugby ball-shaped.
  • Axis. If you have an astigmatism, this indicates where the lenses need to be positioned.

The same goes for contact lenses

Legally, opticians must hand over a copy of your contact lens prescription, even if you don't buy lenses from them. This means you're free to buy online from cheap online sellers.

It's all about getting exactly the same lenses as normal, following your prescription, but paying less. Once you know the contact lenses you need and have been fitted for them by an optician, use our Cheap Contact Lens Finder to instantly search specialist discount sites to find the cheapest.

Finding the cheapest glasses

For a full list, see our dedicated Cheap Glasses page, which has all the latest, up-to-date deals and offers.

Basic lenses

The cheapest deals are still on the internet, although high street opticians have slashed their prices in recent years to compete. If you don't have regular access to the internet or just want to speak to a human, a few of the dispensers will also take your order over the phone or by post.

A few years ago it was possible to save more than 80% on the cost of basic glasses. Prices at Specsavers now start from £25 for frames and basic single vision lenses, and £29 at Vision Express. There are still big savings available but this has dropped to around 50% by the time you add the cost of delivery.

Price of the cheapest glasses
Retailer Cost of cheapest frames with lenses
Selectspecs £5.00
Goggles4u £5.33
Zenni £8.68
BudgetSpex £8.49
Perfectspecs £15.00
Tesco £15.00
Spex4less* £19.97
Glasses2you £24.95
GlassesDirect £25.00
39dollarglasses* £26.14
Prices as of March 2015. Excluding delivery.

Designer glasses

If you fancy yourself as a bit of a fashionista, many of the online dispensers offer designer specs at bargain basement prices. Try some frames in a high street store to see what suits and fits you then make a note of the model number and then you can try to find the exact frames online without having to buy blind!

Many online retailers offer designer frames with more than 50% off. MyOptique has Dolce and Gabbana frames and basic lenses from £113, compared with the £209 starting price at Vision Express, while Designer Glasses has Ray-Ban frames from £63, compared with the £210 starting price at Boots Opticians.

Bifocals and varifocals

Most online retailers do now offer bifocal and varifocal lenses, although not for every type of frame. Take care while entering your prescription as the information is more complex and as they are more costly to make, you risk losing more money if you make a mistake with the prescription.

What happens if they're not right?

You do need to be careful when ordering. If you make a mistake with entering prescription details, you are not necessarily guaranteed a refund or exchange. Having said that, dispensers like Spex4less* offer a full money-back guarantee, regardless of whether it was your mistake or theirs.

In other cases, provided you return the frames within the specified time limit you should get a refund or exchange, though you will have to stump up for the postage costs again. If you're not sure of something on your prescription most online dispensers will decipher it for you if you contact them.

Extra tips: Getting good-fitting glasses online

  • Order the glasses and then go in to a high street optician for a final fitting and adjustment.

  • Check the frame dimensions online before buying and compare them to an old pair of glasses that fit well.

  • The inside arm of your present pair of glasses should have a pair of two digit numbers, eg, 55/21. The first number represents the width of the lens and the second the width of the bridge.

The size of the saving

At Specsavers basic frames and single vision lenses cost from £25, while Boots Opticians start from £50 for their cheapest frame and lense. Buy them online and you could pay as little as £4 for the frames and lenses, although remember to factor in the cost of delivery.