Friday, February 22, 2008

Holy Crap! 40 lbs. (18 kg) of Glucose on the Cheap

Last year, my employer promised to implement flexible spending accounts and some other benefits (such as an optional dental plan, paid for with pre-tax dollars, naturally). The deadline for enrollment was this week. To prepare, I spent a fair amount of time analyzing my various co-pays to doctors, pharmacies, as well as expenses paid for glasses/contact lenses and a host of other out-of-pocket expenses related to diabetes so I could accurately estimate how much of my pre-tax income I should allocate.

Up until this point, my "system" for tracking expenses was pretty much to save any receipts and put them into an old shoebox, which after a year of collecting receipts was surprisingly full. The good news is that I have a very good idea of what I need to set aside, and my savings during 2008 should be quite substantial!

One item I was a bit troubled by was the amount of money I spent on glucose (dextrose) tablets for treating hypos. At $5.95 for a bottle of 50 tablets ($4.95 for a bottle if and when I happen to be near a Wal-Mart -- and since there isn't a single Wal-Mart in any of New York City's 5 boroughs I am aware of, its usually when I venture into the suburbs), but the cost adds up surprisingly fast.

Truth be told, I probably waste a fair amount of these things, as I've removed more than a pocketful of yuck after I've washed pants with a roll of tablets in it, but still, the markup is unbelievable. As I noted in my previous post on glucose tablets back in 2006, "lets face it, making dextrose tablets is not complex drug engineering", so the prices are akin to highway robbery. When I considered what I had spent on those things during 2007, it occurred to me that there had to be a better way.

Last Halloween, I happened to "discover" Smarties in my local store and I bought a few bags meant for trick-or-treaters. Not only were their ingredients pure dextrose (plus the obligatory artificial coloring, citric acid, etc.) and they were surprisingly easy to measure. The basics are as follows: each roll is 6 grams, therefore 2 1/2 rolls = 15 grams of sugar (or, more specifically, 0.4 grams per tablet), plus no one looks at me strangely when I open them or consume them. But the biggest benefit was that the cost was a fraction of the cost that our diabusinesses friends catering to the needs of a largely dependent population sell their competing products for. So, in my planning stage, I decided to seek out a bulk supply for the coming year. As it turns out, the website has an online store, and enables customers to buy "cases of bulk" Smarties en masse. I ordered a case of Smarties 15 Tablet Rolls, which the website says contains approx. 2,400 rolls per case. The cost was $50, plus shipping. That equates to about what I would spend for about 8 or 9 bottles of glucose tabs in my local pharmacy.

Yesterday, they delivered my order. I must admit, I was expecting a box close in size of my usual mail-order shipment of test strips from Medco Health. I was therefore a bit surprised by how big a bulk order of these things actually is!

I received a good sized box (about 3 times the size of my test strip orders) which weighed 40 lbs. (18 kg)! Now, on a per-gram basis, we're talking about pennies vs. dollars here, so it was indeed a very good bargain. But it looks like I'm covered for hypo treatments for a quite a while. Perhaps the only place I'll still keep the regular tablets will be the glove compartment of my car, as the last place I want to be unwrapping rolls of Smarties is while I'm behind the wheel, but all things considered, I will be switching to these smaller-sized tablets which retail (and bulk) are far cheaper. If anyone is looking to slash their miscellaneous diabetes expenses for the coming year, consider ordering a case of Smarties -- now I know why they call these things Smarties, but I cannot help but wonder if that means when I bought glucose tabs if I was a dummy?


Jenny said...


Did you know that the hard Sweetarts are 2 grams per disc, too? They are more convenient for carrying in my purse. Plus they have them everywhere.

Craig said...

Did you submit the smarties receipt for reimbursement to the flex spend program yet? Did they have any qualms about reimbursing you for "candy"?

Scott S said...

Thanks Jenny, I have used SweetTarts on occasion, too -- they are a more convenient size, but I didn't find them to ship in bulk, so I stuck with Smarties!

Craig: The IRS determines what is considered eligible for reimbursement, so I'm not certain it will qualify. However, the cost is still significantly less, so it makes sense even if I can't get it reimbursed, but thanks for asking!

Anonymous said...

OMG... that's genius! I'm not a big fan of the candy, as it doesn't taste really all that good to me and the citirc acid in them does a number on my tongue. However, I suppose if you are looking at the issue of cost, it's a far better deal than the stuff made especially for us. Now that you mention it, the flavors and consistency are very similar. The only downside that I can see to carrying the smaller stuff is that the rolls themselves are kinda fragile and easily crushed. You'd have to carry them in a crush-proof container.

Of course, if this idea takes off enmasse and Type 1's start ordering cases of the candy (either pooling their money to purchase a case or buying one for themselves to last a couple of years) things could get interesting. I'd like to see the looks on the faces of the marketers of the glucose tabs when it's revealed that a majority of Type 1 diabetics are buying Smarties rather than their overpriced product. You'd see either a reduction in the kind of glucose tabs out there (marketed soley at parents who want their kids to carry somthing they won't be tempted to snack on) or a steep price reduction. Either one would be good. Now, if they would only make them taste like something other than sweetened and citric-acid laced chalkboard remnants.

Too bad that M&M's don't work as well as the straight hard candies (due to the chocolate and fat content) for treating lows) or those old Necco-wafer-type candies. I could so get behind that.

Anne Findlay said...

I've been using Smarties since day 1 and I now hate them so much they almost make me ill to look at them. They taste so much better when you can eat one color at a time rather than wolfing the whole thing down in 2 bites. But yes they are much cheaper than glucose tabs! They also disintegrate like glucose tabs and get powder everywhere when they explode, so it's best to keep them in a ziploc baggie!

Anonymous said...

Hey, Scott--

If I'm in the neighborhood next October, I know where I'll stop for trick-or-treats; looks like you efficiently killed 2 birds with one stone!

{Above "anonymous"--the old Necco wafers are STILL available. I occasionally find them in some of our little backwoods 'convenience stores' . . . but I think they can be ferreted out on-line.]


Anonymous said...

Awesome!! I save money and can eat candy!!!!

Scott K. Johnson said...

I placed my order today too...

I am out of tablets at home, and it was time for me to stock up. I was just not looking forward to throwing down so much cash for 4 or 5 of the 50 count bottles. Problem solved!

I'm anxious to see how to work it out. Logistics will be the challenge for me, but where there's a will there's a way!

Keeping them stored in my already overloaded pockets without crushing them is a small concern. Maybe I can throw a bunch into the glucose tab tube.

Keeping a HUGE box of candy away from my 6 and 8 year old kids is another matter altogether... :-)

Thanks for the heads up!

Bernard said...

I switched to smarties (US ones) about 6 months ago. They work great and as you said they taste a whole lot better. No awful glucose dust, yuk!

Thanks for the pointer to a cheap supplier, I've just been buying bags at my local pharmacy.

Hey maybe you want to sell me some of your 50kg of stuff. Or would that make you a pusher? :-))

Anonymous said...

I almost did this a few years ago, but then discovered that shipping to the Midwest was nearly $30 for a 42-pound case. Roughly, 40 pounds of glucose for $80 means $2 per pound of glucose.

I can buy a 2-pound bag at Wal-mart for $1.50 + tax, plus the assurance that I can keep going back to buy fresh bags.

For some people, it might actually be more cost-effective to buy Smarties at their local "warehouse" store!

I wish they sold 'm in single flavors!