Spending money in areas that require expertise can definitely be nerve-wracking. When you don’t know the field, it can feel impossible to question what the experts tell you. I’m talking about things like car repair, dental work, and medical procedures. Sometimes I feel like for a healthy person, I sure spend a lot on doctor’s visits! I know “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” and all that, but all the checkups and screenings can feel endless (well, especially when you’re like me and did them all in the same month when you first moved last year and then had to repeat this year even though you now have a job!). And with insurance as intricate as it is here in the U.S., it’s often unclear exactly what you’re paying and why.

I wear contact lenses (and have since I was in high school), so I go for a yearly eye exam in order to get a “refill” on my prescription for the next year’s worth of lenses. I haven’t gotten new glasses since I was in 10th grade, because vision insurance always offers to cover EITHER glasses OR contacts. This year at the eye doctor I was particularly frustrated because they asked if I would authorize these various screenings that each cost extra. Since I know nothing about ophthalmology, I said yes, but it makes me wonder why we shell out for vision insurance when it seems to hardly cover a thing at my yearly checkup!

However, after several years of hunting for deals on contacts, I found a bit of redemption in playing the bargain game online. At the eye doctor, I was quoted a total of $372 for my lenses, with $150 covered by insurance, a $30 “fitting fee” rebate, and a $50 rebate from the manufacturer, for a total of $142. I said thank you, but I’ll order them online. The very savvy salesman tried to convince me that I wouldn’t be able to beat that deal (and I had to press a bit to get him to print my prescription to take with me to order elsewhere), but I was unperturbed. And boy was he wrong.

I’ve had good luck with Vision Direct in the past, so I checked there first. The original total came to $255.92, which was a lower starting point than the eye doctor offered! After a 10% discount from a coupon code, free shipping, and 15% cashback on our Discover card, the total was down to $195.78, with the promise of $150 still to come from insurance. That brought it down to only $45.78, and there was still the possibility to file a rebate with the manufacturer for another $25 back.

But thanks to a postcard Discover sent us months ago that I stashed away for this day, I found the best deal yet from Walgreen’s website, of all places. The original total for my 8 boxes of lenses there was $263.92–a littler higher than Vision Direct. However, there was a 20% off coupon code and free shipping, getting us down to $211.14. After 10% cashback from Discover, it got to $190.02, and our $150 from insurance still applies. So the total after all that was $40.02, AND I filed a rebate with the manufacturer that will hopefully yield another check for $25! That means that in the end, after all the various cashback and rebates are applied, we effectively shelled out only $15.02 for a year of me being able to see.

A few observations:

  • It can definitely be overwhelming to try and find deals on specialty items like this, and it's sure tempting to just take the offer from the eye doctor and not look back. However, at this point in my life, I have the time to investigate these other options, and for around $100 of savings it's well worth the effort.
  • This is a case in which having a credit card served us better than paying cash! We wouldn't have gotten the cashback or the coupon code offers had we not been using our Discover card and ordering online.
  • Even the same item can be sold from different sources at drastically different prices, so don't be afraid to comparison shop or look for coupon codes even on items that you think wouldn't have deals available. You might be surprised! Just about all the eye care sites I visited had banner ads displaying different options for saving money, and credit card cashback and sites like Ebates can help you lower the cost even more.
  • Our savings will be hitting our wallets in a few different ways, which makes the final cost a bit deceiving. We did, in fact, use our Discover card to give Walgreen's a total of $211.14. The 10% cashback we earned will be reflected as a statement credit on that card's bill, so we won't actually touch that money (but it will effectively go toward what we paid for the lenses). The $150 from insurance will come as a check, so that will be deposited in our bank account and recorded in our budget as an inflow in the spending category we used to buy the lenses. Same with the rebate if it goes through. Because of how we've designed our budget, this piecemeal approach works for us, but if you play this game just keep in mind that your upfront, out-of-pocket spending might not look as small as the ultimate bottom line.

So that’s that! It took both Andy and me looking things over to get this system devised, but I feel like I’ve won a small victory over “the man.”

Have you saved money on any surprising items lately? What type of expenditure frustrates you the most?

Laura Lindeman

Laura Lindeman