20 unusual ways to save money: Make your own soft drink

By Guest blogger Claire Robinson

Are you a soda or seltzer fiend? If you buy a lot of packaged fizzy drinks, there's a cheaper -- and greener -- alternative: The Soda Club. Soda Club lets you make your own flavored or club soda at home, with water straight from the tap. Special flavor packets mimic all the big-brand favorites: cola, lemon-lime, orange, grapefruit, Dr. Pepper/Mr. Pibb flavor and more.

Here's how it works: You invest in a countertop machine and a few reusable plastic bottles. You also buy exchangeable CO2 canisters, which infuse water with bubbles, and any flavor packets you'd like. When the CO2 canisters are empty, the Soda Club picks up them up and ships you new ones.

A starter kit package for the machine, some flavor packets, two 1-liter bottles and a couple of CO2 canisters costs about $100 (cheaper if you don't want flavors). As you use up the C02, you'll pay $30 for a 2-canister swapout. My husband and I kept track, and one canister gave us about 50 1-liter bottles.

So what's the bottom line? Plain soda water comes to about 30 cents a liter. The flavor packets are $5 for 12 liters, so an extra 42 cents -- a total of 72 cents a liter for flavored soda. So if you're buying $1-$2 smaller lunchtime bottles or fountain sodas from vendors, there's a huge savings. A 12-pack of soda cans is about 4 liters, so if you're buying 12 packs of cans for more than $3, Soda Club is also cheaper.

If you buy 2-liter bottles or already drink generic brands, savings will vary depending on what you pay. Even so, with the Soda Club: a) you have a more readily available supply, b) 1-liter bottles are more portable than 2-liter so you're more likely to, say, bring them to work, c) 2-liters tend to go flat before you can finish them, d) you can have a bigger variety of flavors on hand, and e) you're being much more green by reusing bottles.

It took us about 4 months to recoup the cost of the starter kit and extra bottles with our savings.

The club does have a few downsides. The bottles, specialized to withstand the shots of CO2, are not dishwasher safe. So my husband and I just don't drink directly from them to get a few uses before having to hand wash. You have to replace the bottles after a couple of years. Flavors may not completely match your favorite brands. And both the diet and regular soda flavors contain Splenda, so you have to stick with natural citrus flavorings or plain soda water if you don't consume artificial sweeteners.

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