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. $15). 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 Excellent scores for accuracy from a leading consumer research organization, alongside Very Good scores for repeatability and convenience. 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 not having to code the meter when they open a new vial of test strips, being able to collect blood from almost any angle, and having the option to add more blood to the test strip if there wasn't enough the first time. 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 stored 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.
Bayer Contour Next Test strips (Est. $15 for a pack of 50) are very affordable, and Bayer offers a savings card program that can help you save even more. You can also save money on your initial purchase by buying a Contour Next kit (Est. $45) that comes with 100 test strips, 100 lancets, 100 alcohol prep pads and a lancing device, in addition to the meter itself.
There's also a more expensive USB version of this glucose meter, the Bayer Contour Next USB (Est. $45) that plugs right 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 deliberately bare-bones FreeStyle Precision NEO (Est. $18). Although the FreeStyle Precision NEO requires 0.6 microliters of blood -- twice that of the other FreeStyle meters -- and lacks the backlit screen and test port light that make the FreeStyle Lite (Est. $25) so popular, it works when it matters the most, drawing Excellent accuracy scores and Very Good repeatability scores from a leading consumer research lab.
The FreeStyle Precision NEO has a high-contrast display with large digits, stores up to 1,000 readings, and displays trend indicators to signal times when your blood glucose is routinely high or low. Most users love this meter for being simple, affordable and effective. You can upload its results to the web-based LibreView software, but so few users comment on this feature that we think it's mostly ignored.
You don't need to code the meter when you open a new box of FreeStyle Precision NEO test strips (Est. $25 for a pack of 50), but you do need to unwrap each test strip individually, a feature that some users struggle with. Also, we found some complaints about marketing materials that lead users to believe this meter tests for ketone levels, but that only applies to versions sold outside the U.S.
For the ultimate in affordability, consider the ReliOn Micro (Est. $15). It draws Excellent scores from a consumer laboratory for its accuracy, and Very Good scores for repeatability and convenience. That same laboratory puts the yearly cost for test strips at just over $500, assuming you test four times a day. That's a fraction of the cost of most other meters, and several users say the full retail cost for this meter and its test strips is less than their insurance copay for other brands.
Although the ReliOn Micro only has a couple of features -- most notably date and time stamps for readings, and the ability to flag stored readings as pre- or post-meal -- users love its reliable, affordable functionality, easy portability and small, 0.3-microliter sample size. If your fingers get sore, it allows you to use your palm as an alternate test site.
The ReliOn Confirm has the same features as the ReliOn Micro, plus the ability to calculate glucose average over time and download the readings to a PC or smart device. It also uses the same small, 0.3-microliter sample -- so it's a good choice if you want a few more bells and whistles at what remains a very low cost. However, be aware that neither ReliOn meter comes with a bottle of control solution to help you test its accuracy. ReliOn will provide you with a bottle for free, but users are often disappointed by having to wait for it to be shipped to them.