Check with your insurance to see what they'll cover. Most medical insurances should cover a full exam with an ophthalmologist for the price of a visit to a specialist. In our case, it's a $30 co-pay. Our doctor warned us that many insurances do not cover the cost of refraction, however, so call ahead to your eye doctor for their price for what they'll charge you out of pocket if not covered, ask them for the insurance code for the procedure and then call your insurance company to ask if it's covered.
An optometrist is not a medical doctor, but they are trained post-doctorate professionals at local vision centers and optical shops. Double check when making your appointment that they will provide you with a thorough exam, not just to determine your prescription, but also to dilate your eyes and check for signs of glaucoma. Since treatment in the early stages of glaucoma (when you have no idea you have it) can literally save your vision, it's highly recommended to get regular exams once you pass the age of 35!! Yeah, I didn't know this either, but you can be sure I'm going to add it to my list of annual exams to have now! Anyway, back to optometrists... these exams will likely not be covered by medical insurance, but if you have supplemental vision coverage they'll usually cover or reimburse you a set amount. Mine, for example, required me having the optometrist fill out the claim form, which I send in and can be reimbursed up to $50. So, I called around, finding some places charging as much as $75 for an exam!! I went with a highly recommended place that charged $45 and would do a full exam (yes, checked me for glaucoma, which I don't have, phew!!). If you're near Bay Ridge Brooklyn, check out Oasis Vision Center (7411 5th Ave, Brooklyn), they were great, and they were extremely respectful when I told them I was purchasing glasses online - not a single sales pitch!!
Children's Eye Exams
Our pediatrician does a really easy test using PediaVision, a camera that takes a quick photo of the child's eye. It measures all sorts of things and can determine certain abnormalities that need to be checked by a vision specialist. Our 3 year old daughter failed this, and our 6 year old son failed his school's exam. So we took both for a full exam at a highly recommended local Pediatric Ophthalmologist (Dr. Caryn Pearlstein in Bay Ridge, Staten Island, or NJ). Their vision charts varied depending on if the child knew letters or needed pictures, as you can see Mia demonstrating in the photo below. With 2 kids getting examined, we were there a while, and eventually every image she saw was "poopy". Gah. Kids...
Make sure your prescription, whether filled out by an ophthalmologist or optometrist, includes the PD or pupillary distance. This is required for ordering glasses online, and while you can measure it yourself, a trained professional will be able to do it much more accurately.
You may be able to find affordable frames at your local vision center, however more often than not you'll find labels upward of $200+ and that doesn't even include the lenses!! Check with your insurance to see what they'll cover before deciding on your budget. My insurance, for example, will cover $100 per frame every 2 years, and $50 per lenses once a year. It was not enough to cover the child-proof MiraFlex frames (no hinges!!) everyone recommended for my 3 year old, so my search continued online, and this is where it gets interesting!!
There are numerous websites where you can find very budget-friendly glasses online. I ended up finding the cheapest Miraflex glasses on discountglasses.com - Just $100 for the glasses, including the frames, meaning they would be 100% covered by our insurance and save me about $150 extra out of pocket that our local optician wanted to charge me!! It also meant I still have my $50 in lens credit to use later in the year if/when her prescription changes! For myself, I got a pair of glasses for $117 included lenses and a pair of prescription sunglasses for $60 including lenses (though my 2 pair were complimentary as part of an Instagram campaign I worked with them on; side note, this blog post is not sponsored by or in cooperation with them or any brand).