Thursday, October 14, 2010

Living Happily on a Shoestring: Are Contact Lenses a Want or a Need?

by Christine Wilkinson

This question is killing me! In our ongoing warfare against debt, my husband and I have drawn a rigid line in the sand: If an item isn’t an essential Need, then it’s a Want, and right now we simply can’t afford Wants. I’ve already broken the cardinal rule of our plan (called Commando Financial Warfare) by counting Diet Pepsi as a Need. (It’s a Need for me in the same way that morning coffee is for others.) Now I’m facing an even harder Need vs. Want question:  Are my contact lenses a Need or a Want? I have a pair of glasses that I only wear at night, but I could easily wear them by day and stop paying for contact lenses.

I wear disposable lenses and due to my allergies I only wear them for one week (instead of the prescribed two). The lenses come six in a box, and each box costs about $22. So, that’s roughly 17 boxes a year for an annual sum of $374, and that doesn’t even include the cost of daily saline solution. But….here’s the thing about wearing my glasses. I have post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) about wearing them in public. I wish I were kidding.

It all goes back to the second grade when my astute teacher, Mrs. Solloman, was the first adult to notice that, really, I couldn’t see a damn thing. My mother took me to the optometrist who quickly prescribed glasses. It gets worse, a lot worse.

I needed bifocals -- I was only seven!

Anyway, this was way before they made the lines invisible so I had these chunky inserts in each lens. And to make matters worse, they were truly Coke-bottle thick. I looked far more like Mr. Magoo than a kid.

This was sometime in the early 70’s and I can remember it like yesterday that my Mom said it would be fine -- she’d get me frames like John Lennon’s. I’d be a rock star! I ultimately ended up with wire frames not exactly like Lennon’s -- mine had an octagonal shape. My mother assured me that they looked great. (Moms have to lie sometimes.)

So, I returned to school with my new "super cool" glasses. At first, there was not much of a reaction, but within days, any time I’d pass certain kids in the hallway, they’d suddenly yell out, “Stop!

Pretty unnerving for a kid. "Stop" stuck and became my new nickname as the kids had decided that my glasses looked like stop signs. I was called Stop throughout elementary school. Needless to say, I positively loathed wearing my glasses. 

By the time I was in the seventh grade, I did not need bifocals any longer and my mother finally took me in for contact lenses.

The thing is, on the rare occasions when I’ve had to wear my glasses by day, I feel the same painfully awkward way I did in the second grade. I sincerely, honest-to-the-big-guy do. I feel the burning stigma of Stop! I feel ugly and four-eyed and highly worthy of being teased.

So, can I pull off wearing my glasses full-time until we’re out of debt, or at least less in debt? I already have god-awful hair as I’ve given up high end salon cuts and colors, and now cut and dye my own hair.

It seems cruel that I have to be in debt and be Ugly Penny (Saver). What's a poor four-eyed girl to do?


Christine Wilkinson is a veteran middle school teacher, who holds a Master's degree in Education and is currently job hunting. Christine is also a freelance writer who has had articles published in the Raleigh News and Observer and most recently in the Washington Post. She has lived most of her adult life in the DC-Baltimore area, although she recently returned from a three year detour in the South (Raleigh, NC). She is married with a 7-year-old daughter, which prompts her to observe: "While I may be struggling in this economy, I lead a rich life blessed with a great family and amazing friends."

Christine welcomes your comments below.


  1. It's cheaper to buy the contact lenses for a year than it would be to get just a few counseling sessions to deal with your issues about glasses.

    So, in your case, unless you have great insurance that would cover all your counseling sessions in full, I'd definitely count contact lenses as a NEED!

  2. Contact lenses are a NEED. Absolutely no question about it. I get a similar feeling to yours when I wear my glasses in public. I feel more awkward, the vibe I get from strangers is not as friendly as when I wear contacts (and thus look better), and I have trouble seeing at night if I'm driving with my glasses instead of lenses. Do not compromise: get those lenses!

  3. Don't make your goal of debt reduction go so far as to negatively affect how you feel about yourself! Buy the contact lenses, already! And, go get a proper haircut unless you are really good at giving yourself a haircut.

    If you feel good about yourself, you will reach your goals, including debt reduction, faster.

    Have you looked into the cost of hard lenses? You only have to buy one pair that lasts a year or even longer, if your prescription doesn't change.

    All that said, like your mom, I do think glasses can look really cool! My current favorite is Rachel Maddow in her big clunky bright colored plastic frames. But she never wears the glasses on TV. She wears, you got it, contacts!

  4. Thanks, friends, for sending me the answer I wanted: contact lenses are a Need! :-) I will "STOP" worrying about it and splurge. As for those of you worried about my mental health, I really was trying to be humorous about the whole elementary trauma! :-) Nonetheless, completely true story!
    See you next Thursday...