Glasses, Contacts or Lasik: Which is Cost Effective?

Glasses, Contacts or Lasik: Which is Cost Effective?

About a month ago, I made the error of trying to move too quickly while running errands. I threw my glasses onto my car’s seat, and when I came back to drive, I sat down with a nice crunch. My heart sank as I pulled up my glasses and saw that I had given them a good flattening. They’re still mostly wearable, but the lenses are just about ready to fall out, and they sit a bit crooked on my face.

As I began researching what I could do to fix them, I ran into a bit of a brick wall. Nobody seems to want to fix rando glasses – they will either offer a warranty or want you to swap them out with something else. That makes sense from a business perspective, I get it. Still, it got me thinking about vision correction and what route would be the most cost effective: glasses, contacts, or Lasik.

Disclaimer: The numbers I’ll be using are averages found during research into these categories. I’d like to say upfront that of course there are cheaper options, and shopping around can get you a better deal. For the sake of argument, I’ll be using these averages as a comparison between the three.


Most people with vision correction needs have glasses, even if they also use contacts. In some cases, even those who have gotten laser eye surgery (aka Lasik) still need reading glasses. Simply put, if you’re not a 20/20 kind of person, you probably own a pair or two of glasses.

The average pair of glasses costs $196. Sure, glasses can be far cheaper, but they can also be far more expensive. They can get especially expensive when you start adding on things like anti-glare and other lens add-ons. Beyond the expense of the glasses, U.S. retailers require that you have an eye exam done before purchasing lenses. The exam alone averages another $114. That assumes you do not have insurance. With insurance, the copay is generally between $5 and $35, but given the cost of insurance you still end up paying a decent chunk. For this comparison, I will use the uninsured price, since eye insurance is not available for everyone. Given these numbers, the combined total average of the cost of buying glasses is $310.

To be honest, that is a small price to pay for being able to see every day. Though it does become painful if you need to regularly get new glasses, or if your prescription changes over time. Let’s say you manage to buy a new pair of glasses once every four years. That’s pretty optimistic for some people, but it’s manageable. Over 20 years, you would spend $1,550 on glasses. Over 40 years, that becomes $3,100. It amounts to $77.50/year, which is less than the cost of Amazon Prime. I’ll take being able to see across the room over two day shipping any day.

Granted, this is the bare minimum effort here. This scenario assumes you only get an eye exam every four years. It is recommended that you get an eye exam at least every two years. Don’t skimp on your health. Your eyes are too pretty to ignore.

Gucci glasses frames
Name brands will cost much more, but also beware cheap, low-quality frames.


I never really wore contacts, so this was totally new knowledge for me. For the sake of comparison, we’ll go with the prices for what I found to be the cheapest option for contacts: standard, multi-day-use, disposable contacts. The daily and monthly/long term contacts all came in at a higher price.

The average price of disposable contact lenses comes out to $240/year. That’s just for the lenses themselves. You’ll also need to keep them clean with some contact solution. The average price per year for solution is $175. On top of that, you’ll need to consult with your eye doctor for the prescription, which we’ve already established has an average exam price of $114. Tallying that up, it comes out to $529/year.

To compare with glasses, contacts would come out to $10,580 for 20 years, or $21,160 for 40 years. Yikes.

If you’re able to skip the eye exam and simply get a repeat prescription, the yearly total does drop to $415/year, but that still puts you at $16,600 over 40 years – $13,500 more than our glasses estimation.

Lasik / Laser Surgery

Finally, let’s look at Lasik. Lasik has (to my surprise) been around for about 25 years. The technology has gotten very good. The procedure itself only takes about half an hour, and no tools touch your eye. They also claim it’s painless, so that’s nice too.

Lasik uses a per-eye cost, which is really just a way to make the price look more inviting at first glance. Unless you really do have perfect vision in one eye, you are probably looking to get both eyes lasered up. Lasik on average runs you about $4,500 total.

I’ve heard hearsay about how Lasik can fade and may need to be redone years later. I tried to research this, but all I could find was that in about 5% of patients people needed to either have touch-ups or still wear corrective lenses some time after the procedure. It varies person-to-person, and aging does play a factor. Beyond that, Lasik does not fix things like needing reading glasses. It can, but people tend to not love that solution.

So in general, Lasik will cost you, well, $4,500 over 20 years, and hopefully still just that same $4,500 over 40 years.

Glasses Contacts Lasik
Annual Cost $77.50 $529 $4,500
20 Year Cost $1,550 $10,580 $4,500
40 Year Cost $3,100 $21,160 $4,500


Which Is Best?

Well that’s really up to you. Glasses are most likely the cheapest way to correct your vision. If you shop around, you can find very inexpensive frames (though beware low-quality products). Between buying inexpensive frames, re-using lenses, and generally being careful to not sit on your glasses, you can manage to net a very low yearly cost for vision correction if you take the glasses route.

However, you may find glasses to be cumbersome. If that is the case, I’d suggest checking further into Lasik. Sometimes you can even find a coupon or a medical institute that will offer a discounted procedure. I’ve seen prices in the low $2,000 range, and some places claim they will do it for under $1,000. I’m skeptical of hidden fees and quality of service, but hey, they could be fine.

Contacts seem to be the worst deal of the options, and given that you can literally do walk-ins at some Lasik facilities, you might as well just get the permanent fix rather than continue using contacts. The price is right for what you’ll get, and you’ll save time in your day from not finicking with solution and fixing caught lashes.

Here’s to saving money while seeing the world for the beautiful thing that it is in crisp, clear HD vision.

~Mr. RW

3 thoughts on “Glasses, Contacts or Lasik: Which is Cost Effective?

  1. Keep in mind that LASIK may not work after all. Do as much research as possible before you do it.

    I had LASIK done in 2013 and about a year later I had to get glasses again. LASIK does not work for everyone.

    1. The effectiveness does seem to vary person-to-person. It’s definitely important to do research and get multiple opinions to make sure Lasik is right for you.

  2. Hey Mister,

    Another option to consider is Orthokeratology or ortho-k. They’re hard contacts that kind of work like a prosthetic.

    You wear the contacts at night. While you’re sleeping, they gently reshape your cornea in a way that gives you 20/20 or near 20/20 vision when you wake up.

    In the morning you take the contacts out, clean them, put them in their case and then walk around during the day with perfect, unaided vision.

    The effects of the contacts usually last around 24-48 hours, sometimes longer, just depends on the person.

    Each night, or every other night depending upon the curvature of your cornea, you get ready for bed, put in your ortho-k contacts and start the process all over again.

    As far as how often you’d need to replace the lenses, professional opinions vary anywhere from each year to every three years.

    I’ve been considering them for a while and plan on going to an optometrist who specializes in ortho-k for a consultation.

    It would be interesting to hear your thoughts once you’ve had the chance to read up on it.

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