It may be tempting to judge a blood glucose meter solely by its initial cost. But given that someone testing their glucose levels four times a day can blow through more than 100 test strips in a month, a glucose meter's true cost is best measured by how much you spend on test strips over time. In fact, some major manufacturers give away their meters for free because they recoup their losses on sales of test strips.
Still, the meters with the lowest yearly operating cost also tend to cost very little themselves. Take our best-reviewed cheap glucose meter, the Bayer Contour Next (Est. $5). It's one of the few truly inexpensive meters that not only makes it into clinical trials but also excels: In a study published in 2014 in the Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology, researchers found that the Bayer Contour Next outperformed a professional glucose monitor designed for point-of-care testing.
This small, inexpensive glucose meter also receives top scores in every category from a leading consumer research organization. User reviews on the Bayer Contour Next tend to be very short and to the point; at this price, users just want a blood glucose meter that does its job. But they also love being able to collect blood from almost any angle and to add more blood to the test strip if there wasn't enough the first time. Both features mean fewer wasted test strips (and thus less wasted money). The Bayer Contour Next requires a 0.6 microliter blood sample and allows you to use your palm as an alternate testing site.
Other popular features -- and unusual finds on a glucose meter in this price range -- include the ability to add notes to readings, mark them as taken before or after meals (or while fasting), and programmable reminders. The Bayer Contour Next can also display its onscreen messages in 14 languages, including English and Spanish, and has a micro USB port that lets you transfer data to your Windows or Mac desktop for charting and logging in Bayer's optional Glucofacts Deluxe software.
There's also a more expensive USB version of this glucose meter, the Bayer Contour Next USB (Est. $33) that plugs into your computer's USB port and comes with Glucofacts Deluxe software preinstalled.
One important note: According to the user manual for this model, peritoneal dialysis using icodextrin will not interfere with readings from Bayer Contour Next test strips; however, treatments that involve xylose will.
The Bayer Contour Next's nearest competitor is the bare-bones TRUE2Go (Est. $12), which is often labeled as a store brand (such as Walgreens or CVS). The TRUE2Go receives very good expert scores for its accuracy and repeatability, but its biggest claim to fame is its size: It's just a little bit bigger than a quarter. That's a pro for some users, but a few find this diminutive meter so small that it's easy to misplace. The digits on its screen are large and easy to read, but the screen itself isn't illuminated.
The TRUE2Go returns results quickly (4 seconds) and includes your forearm as an alternate test site. In a video review for the DiabetesMine Test Kitchen, author Dan Fleshler praises the TRUE2Go for its basic, convenient functionality, and says its results were comparably accurate to those from his Accu-Chek Aviva Plus meter. It uses a 0.5 microliter sample size and does not require coding.
However, there are a few downsides to using such a basic monitor. Although the TRUE2Go stores up to 99 readings (about three and a half weeks' worth if you test four times a day), it doesn't log their date and time, and it doesn't calculate daily, weekly or monthly averages. It also lacks a backlight and a data port for exporting the stored readings.
But at this price, and with TRUEtest Test Strips that typically cost around $19 for a box of 100, the TRUE2GO glucose meter is a truly affordable option for those on a budget or who need a second meter for on-the-go readings.
Important note: If you're undergoing peritoneal dialysis or medical treatment that involves sugars such as maltose or xylose, the TRUE2Go's test strips may return false high readings. Read more in this FDA warning from 2009.