Is LASIK Eye Surgery Cheaper Than Glasses and Contacts?

Last Updated on

I’ve always hated my glasses.  Even after I got over the typical stigma of having frames grace my face, I still hated them.  I find them cumbersome and annoying, while failing to provide me with that “sophisticated” look or gravitas that has so many people purchasing “fake” glasses for purely aesthetic purposes these days.  The only thing that keeps the old coke bottles on my face is my absolute refusal to use contacts.  I tried them once for a couple of weeks, but I must confess that I am a creature of habit and I didn’t like the time it took to fiddle with them day-in and day-out.  Plus, as a personal finance writer I couldn’t help but notice the price tag on every box.  These realities have led me to the conclusion that I want eye surgery.   I think I would pay a fair amount for the service just as a personal luxury, but the interesting revelation when I started looking into the costs was that getting laser eye surgery is likely a decent investment as well.

To Each Their Own

Now before I come to any specific conclusions it is important to remember that no two people’s eyes are the same.  LASIK eye surgery (which has become the dominant name in the field where I live) costs are heavily how much damage there is to repair within the eyes.  Their advertisements that state, “Starting at $490 an eye,” with the tiny asterisk beside are exactly what a cynic might think they were – misleading scenarios.  I’m sure somewhere out there, an individual exists who got LASIK eye surgery done on both eyes (I always wonder who gets one eye done? I know times are tough but…) for under $1,000 before taxes and extras were included, but I couldn’t find evidence of this online.  One thing that thankfully seemed fairly consistent was the fact that as a young person with minimal problems related to being nearsighted I was a fairly ideal candidate for the surgery.  There were a large range of “average prices” that I came across for LASIK surgeries, and this is likely due to prices coming down in recent years as the service has become more affordable, as well as geographic differences.  One average figure was $3,425, while an AllAboutVision.com price report in 2010 stated the average was just under $4,300 for “a pair”, while USA Eyes recently put the average right around $4,000 in 2012.  We’ll use that round figure just for argument’s sake.  As I said before, everyone’s eyes are different.  When doing a personal calculation I have reason to believe my personal treatment would be closer to the bottom end of the range than the top end.

Count Your Dollar Bills With New Appreciation

Contact lenses or glassesThat number does seem high at first I grant you, but think about all of the costs you currently need to take into account for your eye care.  If you have glasses and/or contacts you likely have to go for check-ups every so often to make sure your prescription is right.  While your insurance might cover part of that, there is still a premium to be placed on your time and transportation costs.  If you rely solely on your glasses, chances are you have a couple pairs lying around, and you buy another pair every couple of years either for fashion purposes, lost pairs, or damage inflicted according to Consumer Reports.  They stated the average glasses-wearer goes through roughly 15 pairs in a lifetime.  My glasses that have Nike frames and great guarantee were over $300 several years ago.  From what I read, the average cost per pair of glasses today in Canada is about $250 (although there was significant money to be saved if you merely got your prescription and ordered online).  Consumer Reports also stated that a box of contacts from your local Costco cost roughly $25, while upper-end Night and Day lenses from LensCrafters were $69.99.  Ten boxes a year seemed to be a fairly agreed upon average from a few different sources (I’ll have to take their word for it, because again, I have very little personal experience).  If we go with an average yearly cost of $300 to get our numbers, it would take roughly 13 years to break even on your surgical investment.  Glasses come in as a bit cheaper option and would average $3,750 over a lifetime.

For me personally, I’ll have to go in for my free consultation, but I assume I’ll be around $2500-$3000 considering what the relative range is and my relative mild eyesight problems.  Since I’m a young optically-challenged person I would guess that over the course of my lifetime I would spend higher than average amounts on glasses and/or contacts.  When I crunch the numbers that way this seems like a no-brainer for me.  Popular perception is that there is some degree of danger inherent in having a laser that close to your eye, but from what I read, I think there is more danger in having glass less than an inch from your eye your entire life.

Overlooked Tax Credits

According to H&R Block, medical tax credits are the most underutilized part of most tax returns.  The federal government gives a non-refundable credit of 15 percent on allowable expenses (of which eye surgery is eligible).  There are a couple other little caveats you or your accountant should be aware of when applying for this tax credit.  For example, if you have to travel more than 40km to attain medical treatment, mileage costs are applicable as well (yay for us rural folk).

Have any of our readers ever had eye surgery before?  How was the experience?  Did you think about the monetary side of things before making your decision, or was it purely for your own enjoyment?  From what I read you should ask your surgeon what specific expenses are covered in the quote you are given, but that LASIK is pretty upfront with their costs.  It would be great to get a few Canadian examples to compare.

26 Comments

  1. Vicky on November 8, 2012 at 12:58 pm

    I had LASIK done on my eyes in 2006, and I would do it again in a heartbeat. I don’t even remember what it is like to wake up and not see what time it is anymore! 🙂 I did it mainly for convenience, as the money (just over $4K for me) was something that was worth paying for. And yes, I did claim it on my taxes. 🙂

    The consultation is pretty thorough, and they definitely go through everything that is included. I do have a 20/20 lifetime guarantee, which means they will do any follow-up surgeries if I need them. I actually had an additional surgery on one of my eyes, and that was included. They also included the first 5 years of check-ups, but the caveat is that you HAVE to go back to them to get your eyes checked on a yearly basis, but they ensured that their annual check-up fees were competitive.

    I’m not going to lie; the experience was a bit terrifying, as you HAVE to be awake for the procedure, as the surgeon will talk to you and you have to focus on certain places during the procedure. Even though they give you a numbing solution, you can still feel them making the cut in your eye to lift up the flap.

    Even now I find that my eyes dry out pretty easily, and if they’re tired, I have some difficulty focusing. At night, I find that if I stare at street lights, they sometimes have halos around them. That being said, I would still do it again. 🙂



  2. Gen Y Finance Journey on November 8, 2012 at 2:15 pm

    One thing you should look into are the side effects. I haven’t done much of my own research, but I’ve heard that laser eye surgery can sometimes cause dry eyes that are much more of an inconvenience than wearing glasses or contacts every day. I really don’t know what the chances of developing dry eyes are, or if the skill of the doctor makes a difference. It’s something you should definitely look into before getting the procedure.



  3. Teacher Man on November 8, 2012 at 5:58 pm

    Ya I checked this out, it seems like the rates are super low and that they are getting better all of the time. LASIK has several guarantees from what I’ve read.



  4. Teacher Man on November 8, 2012 at 6:00 pm

    Thanks for the update Vicky, I appreciate the testimonial! Good to hear about the 20/20 lifetime guarantee, that sounds very promising and was basically my biggest concern. That process does sound brutally terrifying, but a one-time pain right? How long did it take? Anyone else have first hand experience?



  5. Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies on November 8, 2012 at 7:59 pm

    I’ve heard that if your eyesight is still getting worse then LASIK probably isn’t worth it, since your eyesight will get better, but then continue getting worse again and you might need another surgery in 10 years.

    And my boss told me I look smarter with glasses… so I guess I’ll keep them if the boss thinks I look smarter, huh?



  6. Patrick on November 8, 2012 at 10:40 pm

    I encourage anybody who is thinking about having this done to do a LOT of reading. I’m scheduled to get PRK in ~one month myself. It seems that dry eyes is a huge side effect (25-60%) so be aware of that risk. Both my brother and sister complain about the dry eyes and they had it done 2 and 5 years ago respectively. That said, I do think that the benefits outweigh the side effects.

    I really hate their advertised $490 per eye, to me that really turned me off the entire industry as it’s so obviously a bogus claim that you’ll almost never see. My clinic doesn’t even offer the $490 treatment….



  7. Teacher Man on November 9, 2012 at 8:09 am

    Yah the $490 thing is an interesting sales technique for a “professional” medical service. I would guess that dry eyes would be treatable though right? I had heard 5-10%, do you know where you seen that 25-60% figure Patrick? It’s weird that an easily measurable statistic would have that wide a range.



  8. Teacher Man on November 9, 2012 at 8:11 am

    Haha, all I know is that laser is the first thing politicians are told to get when they run. LASIK now offers 20/20 guarantees, so that to me lessens a lot of worries. Besides, by definition aren’t everyone’s eyes actually getting worse? Are anyone’s actually getting better as they age?



  9. SavingMentor on November 9, 2012 at 8:44 am

    I suffer from dry eyes naturally, and let me tell you nothing makes me more irritable than when my eyes dry out. I get downright snarky because it is super uncomfortable. Eye drops helps but it is still a royal pain. Something to consider.



  10. SavingMentor on November 9, 2012 at 8:46 am

    I recently posted a tutorial on how to get designer glasses for basically free. I’m sure you’ve tried ClearlyContacts before, right TeacherMan? Anyway, there are definite benefits to the laser eye surgery for sure but I don’t think cost is the main factor especially when glasses can be had so cheap. Here a link to my tutorial:

    www.howtosavemoney.ca/ultra…rial-video



  11. Vicky on November 9, 2012 at 10:11 am

    The surgery itself wasn’t long at all; less than 30 minutes? It is the waiting that is the worst part. But it is definitely a one-time pain, life-time gain sort of thing.

    The dry eyes are especially bad right after the surgery, but it does improve; artificial eye drops are your friend.It is also super dry In Calgary, so depending where you are at, the humidity might help you.



  12. Teacher Man on November 9, 2012 at 4:17 pm

    Ya, I’m a prairie guy so probably just as dry here. Thanks for the update. Do they at least give you like a little TV in the ceiling to watch or something so you’re not just lying there thinking about your eye getting cut open?



  13. Teacher Man on November 9, 2012 at 4:19 pm

    I did read this tutorial and I’m very sorry we didn’t include a link. It is definitely worth using. I have not used clearly contacts before simply because since I was aware of it I’ve already owned a pair of glasses and I just keep thinking I will get laser surgery soon so it isn’t worth it. Yet another example though of the internet providing crazy retail prices that brick-and-mortar can’t come close to matching eh?



  14. Patrick on November 9, 2012 at 10:17 pm

    It’s funny, I thought the exact same thing about how easy it would be to find concrete statistics. Unfortunately, it seems that since it is an elective surgery nobody really has to report outcomes to any central source. I went to two different clinics and was shocked that neither could give me any actual statistics. This sort of goes to the shady side of the practice like that $490 teaser rate. Do a quick google search and you’ll find lot’s of information on it (I’ll post a few links at the end of reply). The dry eyes are “treatable” in that you can use eye-drops for the rest of your life, apparently when they cut the flap they sever some nerves which tell the eye when to produce more tears, most people seem to heal OK though, and PRK *seems* to have a slightly better outcome than lasik for dry eyes.

    www.lasikcomplications.com/dryeye.htm

    www.fda.gov/Medic…061354.htm

    www.allaboutvision.com/visio…y-eyes.htm



  15. Teacher Man on November 10, 2012 at 8:32 am

    Thanks Patrick, I looked into it and seems like most people’s tear ducts work fine six months after if they had any problems. Thanks for the info.



  16. spiffi on November 10, 2012 at 11:03 am

    Personally, I wouldn’t pick a LASIK dr by price.

    In the town where I grew up, just outside Vancouver, there was a dr who did laser eye surgery every day – and SO MANY of his customers had such bad outcomes, that another Vancouver eye surgeon setup practice in our town 2 days a week – and all he did was fix the first guy’s botched surgeries.

    Whoever you choose, see if they’ll let you talk to previous patients and make sure they are happy with their outcomes.



  17. Teacher Man on November 10, 2012 at 2:51 pm

    I don’t think there are too many eye doctors in Manitoba to choose from anyway, so it won’t be price oriented. Good advice though.



  18. justin@thefrugalpath on November 10, 2012 at 5:29 pm

    After nearly 18 years of glasses I too can attest that I hate them. I tried contacts in 11th grade, but just like you I hated them. Even if LASIK did cost more, the benefits of not having glasses would far outweigh any extra cost. Not having to search for glasses in the morning, I never put them in the same spot, not having to deal with spots on your glasses when it rains, not having to take them off to go on an amusement park ride, ect….
    I’m just terrified of having to be awake for such a surgery.
    My sister in law had it done a while back, I think almost 10 years, but not sure. Her eyesight is still great and she has no regrets.



  19. Teacher Man on November 10, 2012 at 8:09 pm

    I’ll keep you updated Justin! A half hour pain for full time gain.



  20. Financial Uproar on November 11, 2012 at 12:14 am

    I was quoted $4k for LASIK surgery, which I thought was expensive.

    Meanwhile, I can buy a year’s worth of contacts for $175 from Clearly Contacts. (Which are excellent, except for the monthly reminder email even though I bought a year’s worth of contacts 2 months ago)

    I just did the math. I can buy 22 years worth of contacts for the price of LASIK. Verdict: meh. I guess it’s worth it, but it’s not very exciting.



  21. Teacher Man on November 11, 2012 at 7:55 am

    Yah but you’re an old man Nelson, if only you were a young stallion then you could expect to get many more years worth of enjoyment out of your lazered retinas!

    Did they say how they determined the $4k figure? What is your prescription generally?



  22. Amanda on November 11, 2012 at 2:26 pm

    I was quoted at 5000 but my eye site isn’t that great. I deal with Oakley Optical on portage ave.



  23. Teacher Man on November 11, 2012 at 2:36 pm

    Thanks for a Winnipeg specific quote Amanda. Ouch… $5K eh?



  24. lud on November 16, 2012 at 5:31 pm

    Would not recommend to anybody.Know somebody who had procedure done in Calgary in well known clinic at age 30.After procedure in Calgary this person had problem focusing had to change to sedentary work could not drive.Was told after two years corrective surgery was needed-only available in private clinic in California.



  25. Teacher Man on November 16, 2012 at 6:56 pm

    Ouch, this sounds like a horror story! There was no insurance settlement or anything?



  26. eemusings on November 25, 2012 at 5:33 am

    Hmm, I have no idea if I’d even be a good candidate, but I’m just kind of wary and squeamish (and cheap). I don’t really mind my glasses (or contacts, which took me 10 years to venture to try).



Leave a Comment





> >