Pay less to see better
Three-quarters of people in the UK wear glasses or contact lenses or have had laser eye surgery, according to the College of Optometrists. With the bill for glasses and contacts easily running into hundreds of pounds a year, improving your vision is an expensive business. The good news is there are plenty of ways to make significant savings – from shopping online to getting your employer to foot the bill. Here, we take you through the main options.
Some 69% of the UK population wear glasses and the cost of frames and lenses varies enormously. Supermarkets, chemists and department stores all sell cheap glasses.
Before we get into prices, it’s worth remembering that you do not need a prescription for reading glasses, which is why they are often on sale in supermarkets and other retailers. However, they are one-size-fits-all glasses, meaning they require the purchaser to have the same prescription in both eyes. This makes them unsuitable for many people. Buying reading glasses off the shelf might also deter some people from having a regular eye test, which could lead to undiagnosed health conditions gathering pace.
At the most basic end of the scale, Tesco Direct sells a two-pair pack of 2.0 reading glasses for just £5.99 (free to click and collect or £3 for standard delivery), while Boots’ cheapest single pair is £17.20. So just from these two examples it’s crystal clear to see that shopping around, whether in store or online, is one way to save money.
Frames, of course, are where the bulk of the expense lies. Designer frames can be wildly expensive. Vision Express stocks a pair of ladies’ half-rimmed Cartier C-Decor Glasses for an eye-watering £779 – at least the lenses are included. Its cheapest pair, by comparison, come in at £39. No need to blink again at that price.
But if your heart is set on a designer pair, lots of the big optician chains have offers that can make them significantly cheaper and most run buy-one-get-one-free deals (which usually include sunglasses). These can be very worthwhile, as can any discount on a second pair just to make sure you have a spare with an up-to-date prescription in case of loss or breakage.
Vision Express has a two-for-one deal on Ted Baker frames (at the time of writing). You can choose any pair of adult glasses in the range, complete with single-vision, scratch-resistant lenses, and get a second pair free. Unlike some other buy-one-get-one-free deals, you won’t be restricted to buying two identical pairs. Instead, the cheapest pair is free.
But before you get carried away and team up with a friend or relative to split the cost even further by using a deal to purchase a pair each, remember that glasses must be made up to the same prescription – although one could be for reading and one for distance.
Another good deal currently available is the Specsavers free prescription sunglasses promotion. It’s an add-on to its regular two-for-one deal, through which you can choose any two pairs of glasses from its £69 to £169 ranges and pay for just one. Should you want one pair to be sunglasses, you can have your second pair with tinted prescription lenses and UV filter at no extra cost (it usually charges £24).
There are all manner of promotions available at high street opticians. Boots and Vision Express offer discounts to students with NUS Extra cards, for example. Kids under 16 or under 18 and in full-time education and the over-60s can also get NHS vouchers for free, or heavily discounted, glasses they can redeem across most of the big chains. Boots and Specsavers give 25% off for over-60s.
If you’re happy to forgo the personal experience, online retailers sell frames at very competitive prices. You’ll need to upload a valid prescription, or enter the details from one, to be able to get a quote. There’s an enormous range of retailers to choose from and the quality of service and products can vary just as much.
If you’re wondering where to start, discount websites such as Shadestation.co.uk and Selectspecs.com offer lots of the same brands as Vision Express and Boots but at lower prices. For example, Vision Express sells a pair of Mont Blanc men’s black plastic rectangular frames for £319, including lenses. An identical looking pair at Selectspecs.com, referred to as Mont Blanc’s MB0334 glasses, sell for less than half the Vision Express price at £156.87, including lenses and free delivery.
While such tempting savings can be hard to argue against, if you decide to buy online remember that you’ll be sacrificing certain services high street opticians usually throw in for free, such as getting your glasses properly fitted or tightened. Dr Susan Blakeney, clinical adviser to the College of Optometrists, says: “We always advise individuals to buy their glasses where they have their eyes tested as it is much easier to sort out any problems. Glasses must fit well and only a face-to-face meeting can determine if you are looking through the correct part of your lenses. So it’s always worth speaking to the dispensing optician in store.”
While Blakeney makes a very valid point, some websites are beefing up their customer service tools. For example, Misterspex.co.uk allows you to upload your photo and ‘try on your glasses in 3D’ so you can get an idea of how different styles may suit you. The site also lets you try on up to four pairs of frames at home and return them for free if you’re not satisfied with them.
And if you do choose to buy online to take advantage of discounts, remember you could always pay your local optician a visit to get them to fit your new frames and lenses. You may incur a small charge but you could still end up saving money without compromising on the fit.
Blakeney says it’s much easier to buy contact lenses online than glasses, “as long as you order exactly what is stated on your prescription”. Prices vary by type of lens, brand and pack size.
VisionDirect.co.uk says the most popular brands on its site include Acuvue, Focus Dailies, SofLens, Proclear and Aura. A month’s supply of Focus Dailies All Day Comfort for both eyes costs £23.96, a saving of £4.04 compared to high street prices, according to the website. However, that saving excludes the £2.98 charge for delivery. So the real monthly cost is £26.94 and the saving compared to the high street is just £1.06. You have to buy a three-month supply costing £71.88 to qualify for free delivery. But whether you buy three months’ worth, or even a year’s worth at £287.52, you won’t save much at all on the advertised monthly pack price by bulk buying. You won’t be charged for delivery but you’ll still be forking out the equivalent of £23.96 a month. That said, you’ll save £12.12 and £48.48 respectively compared to purchasing the contacts on the high street.
Don’t forget to make the most of price comparison tools. Websites such as Lensfinder.co.uk let you search by lens type, wear pattern (daily, monthly or continuous) and brand and rank them by price, customer satisfaction and delivery costs.
You should also look out for cashback and voucher deals. If you’re quick, you’ll have a few days left from when Moneywise goes on sale to snap up a good cashback deal from Tesco Opticians. Until 8 November, Tesco is offering £15 cashback when signing up to and purchasing a three-month supply of Alcon Dailies and Alcon Air Optix contacts through its monthly payment My Lens Plan. Prices vary depending on your prescription. The plan also comes with a £10-off voucher for friends or family to use in any Tesco Opticians store or online.
As for vouchers, you can get 10% off your contacts online at Vision Direct until the end of the year with the online checkout code LENSES32. A delivery charge of £2.98 applies.
Should you insure your specs?
Insurer LV= sees 100 claims a month for broken or lost spectacles, with the average payout £337.
The majority of claims are for accidental damage (40%) – usually the result of their being sat on or trod on) – and loss (40%). A further 17% of claims stem from theft and the other 3% are caused by situations such as fire.
If you’re accident- or loss-prone, insuring yourself and your specs is probably wise.You could take out a standalone policy to cover just your glasses. Newmarket Lifestyle’s glasses cover for a £400 pair of glasses costs £2.55 a month for an annual policy, or £24.99 upfront, and insures for loss, mishaps and theft at home, out and about and on holiday abroad. The website, policy summary and terms and conditions document don’t give any information on the excess during the quote process until after you’ve completed a lengthy application form – which requires information about your date of purchase and prescription. However, the customer services helpline confirmed the excess would be £15.
But remember, your spectacles are usually covered by your home contents policy for theft and fire damage so you could be doubling up on insurance by taking out a standard policy. That said, to be covered for accidental damage usually incurs an extra charge, and with the excess on a contents policy usually much higher than £15 on the standalone policy, as well as the fact that successful claims could see your contents premiums rise in subsequent years, glasses insurance could come in handy and save you money.
Many employers offer their staff the option of a healthcare cash plan either in place of, or alongside, private medical insurance as a benefit in kind. Once you have received and paid for treatment, you simply put in your claim and you’ll get some or all of your money back depending on the plan. Most include an annual allowance for optical care. Simplyhealth’s Simply Cash Plan (company paid) covers the policyholder and their spouse for up to £180 each per year that can be used for glasses or contact lenses.
However, while the annual allowance can save you a pretty penny on eyecare, as a benefit in kind, you will be taxed.
Individuals can also set up cash plans. Simplyhealth’s plans range from £11.50 to £34.50 a month, with the annual eyecare allowance varying from £90 to £190.
Private medical insurance
PMI allows you to skip the NHS waiting list and arrange treatment at a time you choose. With most PMI policies, you pay a monthly premium (the older you are, generally the higher premium) and the policy will then pay out, up to specified cover limits and after an agreed excess, for any treatment you might need. Not all conditions are covered by PMI and you get what you pay for: the more cover you want, the higher your premium will be.
This is more usually a feature of car insurance but it can also crop up in contents, mobile phone and pet insurance policies. An excess is the amount of money you have to pay before the insurance company starts paying out. The excess makes up the first part of a claim, so if your excess is £100 and your claim is for £500, you would pay the first £100 and the insurer the remaining £400. Many online insures let you set your own excess, but the lower the excess, the more expensive the premium will be.