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Best Cheap Blood Glucose Meters

By: Lisa Maloney on February 06, 2018

Cheap blood glucose meters are still accurate and consistent

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). (Bayer was purchased by Panasonic, which then created a new company -- Ascencia -- that produces this meter now. So technically it's the Ascencia Contour Next, but most retailers still list it under the brand name Bayer.)

Name confusion aside, this is 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.

The Contour Next also yielded the best results in an intensive trial from the Diabetes Technology Society that involved 18 glucometers and more than 1,000 test subjects. The Contour Next was only the meter that met the DTS's passing criteria 100% of the time in two of the three trials and 99% of the time in the third trial, even using alternate test sites.

This small, inexpensive glucose meter also receives Excellent scores for accuracy from Consumer Reports, 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, to 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 the optional Glucofacts Deluxe software.

Bayer Contour Next Test Strips (Est. $13 for a pack of 50) are very affordable, and Bayer/Ascencia 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. $40) that comes with 50 test strips, 100 lancets, 100 alcohol prep pads and a lancing device, in addition to the meter itself.

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 doesn't have a backlit screen, it works when it matters the most, drawing Excellent accuracy scores and Very Good repeatability scores from Consumer Reports.

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 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., along with a slightly larger than usual number of user complaints about usability issues, like erratic readings or a meter that suddenly dies. So when the Precision NEO works, it's an affordable, utilitarian dream; but it's not quite as reliable as we'd like to see.

If tiny and affordable are your touchstones, then you might also love the ReliOn Confirm (Est. $15). It earns an Excellent score from Consumer Reports for its accuracy, and Very Good repeatability. They estimate its yearly cost of test strips to be about $525 -- a fraction of the cost of most other meters. Several users say the full retail cost for this meter and its ReliOn Confirm test strips (Est. $20 for a pack of 50) is less than their insurance copay for other brands.

The ReliOn Confirm's features are fairly basic: date and time stamps for readings, calculating averages over time 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. It also has the ability to download your readings to a PC or smart device -- an unusual and, for some, truly useful feature that's nice to find in this price range.

One note: The ReliOn Confirm doesn't come 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.

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