How laser eye surgery can save you money
Waking up and being instantly able to see clearly can seem like a distant dream for millions of short-sighted people who reach for their glasses or contact lenses the moment the alarm clock goes off.
But laser eye surgery – a procedure which uses a laser to reshape your cornea, changing its focal point and improving vision – can free you of spectacles and contacts forever.
And while the surgery isn't cheap, it can be more cost effective than you might think.
Doing the sums
Up until a year ago when I had my eyes lasered to cure my minus 6.5 prescription, I'd worn glasses or contact lenses for about 25 years.
The last type of contact lenses I wore cost £52.50 for six months' supply from Specsavers, a toal of £105 a year. Add in cleaning solutions at about £50 a year and a sight test/check-up for £20 and the annual total came to about £175.
On top of that I used to spend about £200 or so on glasses every three years or so. Factoring this cost in too I reckon I spent an average of £240 a year on correcting my sight.
With laser eye surgery costing about £4,000 for both eyes, this means I'd break even in about 16-and-a-half years.
Of course these figures are rough estimates. They'll be different for everyone and the younger you are when you have surgery, the more you'll save in the long run. And having surgery doesn't totally rule out needing glasses later on; most people will still become long-sighted when they reach middle age.
Finding the best deal
Most laser eye surgery clinics offer a free consultation. You go along, have about two hours' worth of tests on your eyes and at the end the optician tells you if you're suitable for treatment and, if so, which one. The two main types are Lasik and Lasek.
Some clinics such as Ultralase and Optimax (which now owns Ultralase) offer a fixed and all-inclusive price, regardless of your prescription. Optimax offers its top level treatment, Lasik Intralase Wavefront, for £1,885 per eye (£3,770 in total). Ultralase offers its best treatment, Lasik Ultra Elite, for the same price.
Others offer a price depending on your prescription and treatment type. Optical Express, for example, offers surgery from £395 per eye.
It sounds much cheaper but I'm sceptical about this kind of offer. A couple of years ago BBC Watchdog investigated laser eye surgery and found only a small proportion of patients were offered surgery at this price. The majority, including anyone with a worse prescription than minus 2, were quoted a much higher cost.
But as consultations are generally free, it can be worth your while to go along to two or three providers and compare costs.
Pricing will be discussed at your consultation and some clinics will encourage you to commit on the day with a special offer. However most will follow up with further offers and discounts so don't be pushed into anything you're not sure of. And don't be afraid to negotiate as there will normally be scope to get a discount on any initial offer.
Also check what's included in the price. Most clinics offer lifetime aftercare. Some also include further treatment at no extra cost if the surgeon thinks you need another operation to achieve a desirable result.
Some clinics also run recommend-a-friend schemes. Optimax offers a previous patient £50 if they recommend a friend who goes on to have treatment. The friend gets a massive £500 discount off Wavefront treatment – a pretty decent saving. So, if you're seriously thinking of having laser surgery, it's worth asking around your friends to see if any of them have had it done and where.
Loans and finance
If you don't have £3,770 lying around you might need to borrow money to spread the cost of laser eye surgery and the good news is the big clinics all offer cheap or interest-free credit.
Ultralase offers 12 months at 0% APR while three and five-year credit agreements have an APR of 12.9%.
Optimax offers 24-months free credit, while Optical Express offers 10 months interest-free and a loan of up to four years at 11.5% APR.
Alternatively you could use a 0% credit card or personal loan to pay for the op.
All surgery comes with risks and laser eye surgery is no different. Make sure you go to a reputable clinic, preferably in the UK, and thoroughly check out the surgeon who will be performing your surgery.
Although the majority of people get a good result and suffer negligible side effects, think carefully before you have it done.
I had Lasik done by Optimax a year ago and it was painless. The only side effect afterwards was dry eyes from time to time. Although I am still very slightly short-sighted, it's well worth it to be free of contact lenses and glasses.