Is Lasik surgery a good investment? — Here is the true cost

Is Lasik surgery a good investment?

I have (well, I had) terrible vision. When I'm not wearing my contacts or glasses, I can't tell how many fingers you're holding up from 3 feet away.

I've worn glasses since the third grade. When I was a kid I didn't mind...I was a nerd anyway.

In middle school I decided to start wearing contact lenses so that I could retire the giant rec-spec sports goggles at soccer practice. It was a huge deal for me.

I've worn contacts almost every single day since then.

I've never had any issues or infections, but I've always wondered what it would be like to not worry about my eyes. To be able to fall asleep on the couch and not wake up with dry eyes that feel like melted plastic.

I finally know what that's like! And I'm going to tell you all about it, whether you like it or not.

The Lasik experience

  • Consultation — I went into the laser eye center for a free consultation, where they ran tests, took measurements, dilated my eyes, and flashed bright lights at me. After about an hour, I was deemed a good candidate for Lasik.
  • Pre-op — I took out my contacts and wore glasses for 10 days prior to my surgery. Two days before surgery, I went into the center for more exams and bright lights.
  • Day of surgery — I was in the center for about 3 hours in total. I signed some paperwork, took a Valium to calm my nerves, and received a ton of numbing eye drops. The actual procedure took only a few minutes! There was no pain whatsoever. The only thing I felt was some pressure on my eyes (it felt like I was rubbing my eyes). I thought it would be extremely scary to have my eyes open and watching it all happen—but the Valium and numbing eye drops made it super easy.
  • Recovery day 1 (day of surgery) — I took eye drops every hour for the rest of the day and kept a plastic shield over my eyes.
  • Recovery day 2 — The drop schedule decreased to every 2 hours. My vision was incredible! I went back into the center for an exam and I was seeing 20/15.
  • Going forward — I will continue to use lubricating eye drops for the first month, and my vision should settle for good around then.

How I paid for my Lasik experience

Since I live in NYC, Lasik is a pretty pricey procedure. Most insurance companies don't cover it (as I found out after 10+ painful phone calls with my health insurance company), and of course everything in NYC has an associated pricing premium.

According to Market Scope, the national average cost of Lasik in the US is $2,259 per eye, for a total cost of $4,518.

Fortunately, my insurance is a part of the Qualsight network, which has preferred pricing for laser eye surgery. With the discount, I received a price of $1,895 per eye, including a lifetime assurance. Without the discount, it would have cost me $3,000 per eye! Like I said...NYC pricing...yuck.

The lifetime assurance basically means that I can get a free "enhancement" at some point in the future if my vision deteriorates again (provided that I am getting a standard vision check-up every year).

I also decided to finance my procedure with Carecredit. The offer I am using is a 12-month financing plan with 0% interest. As long as I pay off the entire cost by the end of the 12-month period, I will pay nothing additional.

It's a great way to smooth out this larger-than-usual cash flow!

Since I am delaying my payment over the 12-month period, in present value terms the cost of my procedure is $3,647 rather than the sticker price of $3,790 (assuming I can invest the cash now and get an average return of 8%).

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Will Lasik save me money over my lifetime?

Let's be super clear. I did not get Lasik surgery to save money. I got it for peace of mind, convenience, and as a luxury/"splurge" purchase. It's something I've considered for a long time, but never felt like I could justify the sticker shock.

But it turns out, this may have been an acceptable financial decision as well. Let's look at the math.

I'll assume that my eyes will have solid vision for the next 25 years. It could be more, it could be less—but this feels like a good guess.

Next, let's compare it to the status quo: new contacts every year, and new glasses every 5 years. I'll assume that my health insurance covers the majority of these costs, but I pay $150 out of pocket every year for contacts and $300 out of pocket for new glasses every 5 years.

After some fancy NPV math, the present value of buying contacts and glasses over the next 25 years would be $2,740 (while also assuming inflation of 2.5% annually).

To summarize all of these numbers:

  • $3,790 — Amount I paid on a 12-month deferred payment schedule.
  • $3,647 — The present value of this payment, since I will invest this money over the next 12 months.
  • $2,740 — The present value cost of buying contacts and glasses for the next 25 years.
  • $907 ($3,647 - $2,740) — My true cost, assuming my vision is good for the next 25 years.

But wait!

I also have the lifetime warranty! This means that my vision should be improved for much longer than 25 years.

Using the same assumptions, I find the breakeven point to be around 50 years. In other words, if my Lasik plus my future "free enhancement" corrects my vision for 50 years in total, my true cost is approximately $0.

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Here's an important lesson

If you look online at many Lasik center websites, they will tell you about the thousands of dollars you will save by getting Lasik. Imagine all the money you won't need to spend on contacts and glasses!

Here's the catch: they aren't doing the math fairly. They are failing to take into account the time value of money!

Sure, if you just add up all the cash flows and compare them, then it looks like Lasik is a total bargain compared to a lifetime of spending on contacts and glasses.

But in reality, most of those contact and glasses purchases would be decades from today! Which means that we need to consider the growth in money over that time (i.e. compounded interest).

If you trust my math, the true cost (not savings) of my laser eye surgery is $907.

So...was it worth it?

It's been less than a week, but right now I think it's completely worth it. I viewed this as a "luxury" purchase—I essentially paid $907 for peace of mind, convenience, and improved well-being. To me, that's a small price to pay for a miraculous outcome (albeit, not without its own risks).

Here's what I'm looking forward to:

  • Falling asleep on the couch. No need to worry about taking off my contacts. Now I can fall asleep wherever and whenever I want! Well, maybe not ANYwhere, or ANYtime...
  • No more worries when playing sports! Yes, I have had contacts fall out on the basketball court and soccer field. It's annoying. No more!
  • Improved allergy symptoms in the spring. Some years I have terrible allergies. My nose runs, I sneeze randomly, and my eyes itch and tear up. Sometimes I can't wear contacts because my eyes are too irritated. Now, I won't need to worry about switching to glasses!
  • Less stuff to pack when traveling. I used to bring glasses, 2 contact cases, an extra pair of contacts, and of course a tiny bottle of contact solution with me when traveling. Now I can use that extra space for something better!
  • No more risks associated with contacts. I'll admit that I was bad with contacts—I wore mine 16+ hours per day, while doctors recommend you should wear them for only 12-14 hours at most. I also used them for months before switching to a new pair, while they were only supposed to be used for 2 weeks. I never had any complications, but now I have one less thing to worry about.

Time will tell how my vision holds up, but right now I'm thrilled with the decision!

Have you gotten laser eye surgery? Are you considering it? Let me know!