Updated on 09.12.11

Saving Pennies or Dollars? Making Your Own Soda

Trent Hamm

saving pennies or dollarsSaving Pennies or Dollars is a new semi-regular series on The Simple Dollar, inspired by a great discussion on The Simple Dollar’s Facebook page concerning frugal tactics that might not really save that much money. I’m going to take some of the scenarios described by the readers there and try to break down the numbers to see if the savings is really worth the time invested.

Marshall said, Perhaps you’re already done considering ideas for the segment, but I never have run the numbers on whether or not the SodaStream machine I bought for $80 will ever save me money – assuming the device lasts a long time (I don’t see why it wouldn’t.) One thing it does do is provide me a great variety in the flavor of soda’s and less recycling/trash.

Right off the bat, the point needs to be made that it’s far less expensive to drink water than it is to drink any kind of soda, whether it’s SodaStream or any prepackaged soda. I can get a gallon of water from my tap for less than a cent. Not only that, it’s better for me than the soda.

Now, let’s look at Marshall’s question. Marshall is referring to a SodaStream, which is one of several different types of household devices that mix water and a syrup to create a soda beverage for drinking. Typically, these devices require an initial investment to buy the machine, but thereafter you only need to buy replacement syrup. Once you’ve sunk the initial cost into the machine, the cost of the syrup and the water is somewhat less than purchasing soda at the store.

Is it a bargain? It really depends on how much soda you drink. What we first need to figure out is the “crossover point” – the point at which a SodaStream machine and the syrup necessary becomes less expensive than the equivalent amount of purchased soda from a store.

Since there are tons of variables here, I’m going to simplify by comparing Coca-Cola to the SodaStream using the “cola” mix. The same approximate numbers work for other soda-making devices and other sodas you might buy at the store.

Costs for SodaStream As mentioned in Marshall’s message, you can purchase a SodaStream machine for $80. After that, you can purchase “cola” refill kits for $5. A single “cola” refill kit costs $5 and makes 12 liters of soda.

Costs for buying Coca-Cola My local store regularly offers a dozen 12 ounce cans of Coca-Cola for $3. This is 4.25 liters of soda for $3.

Cost per liter The cost per liter for SodaStream cola is $0.40. The cost per liter of Coca-Cola is $0.70. Clearly, the SodaStream is going to be cheaper over time.

How much soda do you have to drink to make up for the initial cost? You save $0.30 per liter of SodaStream cola that you drink versus Coca-Cola. The initial cost of the machine is $80. Thus, you’d have to drink 267 liters of soda to make up the initial cost.

Wow. That’s a lot of soda.

To put that in perspective, a twelve ounce can of soda is 0.35 liters. You would have to drink roughly 762 cans of soda for the machine to start being worth it compared to buying Coca-Cola in the store.

Simply put, for this machine to pay off, you have to be a high-throughput soda drinker. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. You have to drink a little over two cans of soda a day for a year to get past that point.

Of course, if you drink the equivalent of three cans of soda a day for five years, a machine like the SodaStream is going to be a great bargain. But if you’re drinking three cans of soda a day for five years, it’s going to have a crippling impact on your health, which isn’t a bargain.

In short, over a long period, a SodaStream can reduce your soda costs significantly if a lot of soda is consumed in your home. However, if a lot of soda is consumed in your home, you may end up finding that you have other expenses as a result of that consumption.

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  1. moom says:

    So it’s pretty obvious that for a family that drinks soda regularly it can pay off. Certainly at the kind of prices we pay for soda here ($3 can buy a 2 litre bottle – but maybe sodatream is more expensive here too). As long as sodastream comes in a zero calorie version I don’t see why it would be “crippling to your health”.

  2. lurker carl says:

    For half the price of Coke or Pepsi products, you can buy store brand soda. For a real bargain, WalMart sells their private label brand for less than any other store brands I’ve seen. There you go, cheaper than SodaStream with plenty of variety and no upfront cost for a machine.

  3. rebecca says:

    A sodastream or other like machine has the added benefit of creating far less trash, even recyclable trash over time. That benefit is huge. Also, I love plain carbonated water, with just lemon or lime in it. So I don’t even need the syrup refills.

  4. Kris says:

    I have a SodaStream, but we don’t use the syrup. We just use it to make sparkling water. This is obviously a lot cheaper and more environmentally friendly than buying bottled fizzy water. For us, it also leads to savings because we drink the sparkling water at dinner instead of wine. Sure, we could drink just plain tap water, but it somehow feels a little more special and satisfying to have the carbonation.

  5. Adam P says:

    Like Kris, I use SodaStream for seltzer. I mix in 2 oz or so of orange juice with a pint of seltzer and that is my go to beverage. Buying a 2liter bottle of club soda (sometimes with lots of salt in it eww) was costly and environmentally not good. About $2.50 a bottle (here in Canada) and I drank 3 or so a week, much more expensive over time than the SodaStream refills.

    I just can’t drink plain water as much, but carbonated water I can drink liter after liter of…funny that.

  6. Johanna says:

    I’ve seen instructions online for making soda by adding a little bit of yeast to a flavored sugar solution to slightly ferment it. I’ve never tried it myself, but people I know who have say it’s pretty good.

    The resulting “soda” contains alcohol, but not enough to worry about in most cases (only a tiny, tiny fraction as much alcohol as is in beer, as I recall). Of course, if you have a medical or religious reason why you can’t have *any* alcohol, you would not want to do this.

  7. Steve says:

    Even if you use it for just carbonated (seltzer) water, there is a cost to the carbonation cartridges.

  8. Des says:

    “But if you’re drinking three cans of soda a day for five years, it’s going to have a crippling impact on your health”

    How do you figure? I drink an inane amount of soda (at least three cans a day, every day) and have for many many years. My last health assessment was pristine – so much so that the nurse said she had never seen numbers as good as mine. I am not and have never been overweight (not even close). I’m not saying soda is healthy at all – but its quite the overstatement to say that it will “cripple” your health.

    That said, we are trying to cut back for the cost factor. Maybe we’ll look into the SodaStream…

  9. Steve says:

    Also, you definitely need to compare to store brand soda. Brand name Coke is not what you get out of the SodaStream.

  10. Chloe says:

    There’s also the factor of being able to make your own syrup and/or flavored seltzer without all the additives, HFCS, artificial colorings, etc. That completely changes the cost analysis as these beverages are much more expensive than cans of even WalMart store brand soda. There is also the fun of creating your own drinks…sort of like a less time-intensive non-alcoholic home brew setup.

  11. Charlotte says:

    You didn’t include the CO2 cartridges. From their website, it’s about $50 for one that makes 130 liters, $30 for one that makes 60 liters. The price goes down if you exchange empties.

  12. Dena Shunra says:

    I like my iSi model soda maker. It is made in Austria, rather than in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

    I may be extra sensitive to the issues because of my profession (Hebrew translator), but it just doesn’t feel right to me to support an illegal settlement, especially not after the call to boycott from Palestinian civil society (pretty much along the pattern of the one in South Africa).

    I realize this is politically contentious; everyone gets to make their own choices and live with them (including me). I believe the comment contributes to the conversation, though.

  13. Spokane Al says:

    The big question for me is how does it taste? I find nothing compares to an ice cold Coke, and everything else is second best.

    I guess I already answered my question.

  14. Stacy says:

    Johanna- My husband has made pretty good ginger ale from scratch (he found a recipe) and it wasn’t that difficult. He made it much less sweet than store-bought soda and the cost was pretty low. You can also get kits for making your own root beer.

  15. Jules says:

    We don’t drink much soda at all, but never underestimate how much soda houseguests can go through! If you’re a family of four, and your kids have their friends over regularly, and they want a soda–if you have regular cookouts with the neighbors–if you’re exclusively fond of flavors like lime and white-grape-lemon, that you can only find in places like Whole Foods–then yes, I’d imagine a Sodastream to be a pretty good investment.

    Or, you could just jury-rig your own bubbler with a CO2 canister…there are some websites out theer that show you how to build a nifty rig that allows you to make all the soda you want for pennies a liter, but of course then you’d need room for an industrial gas cannister.

  16. Genny says:

    I have been seriously considering buying one of these to make homemade Izze. Izze is VERY expensive where we live-$6.49 for a four pack. Sometimes I buy Izze at Costco but it is gone within a few days. I deeply love Izze but not the price :( I have tried making it with club soda and juice but the fizz is gone too quickly.

  17. Lisa says:

    I have a SodaStream as well and we don’t drink cola or any other sugary sodas. We just use tap water and fizz it up! We used to buy 5-7 bottles of plain mineral water a week (We had one for dinner each night). So for us, this machine is a real bargain as we don’t buy the syrups, just the machine and replace the cartridges. We were paying $12 a week on mineral water before, now it’s just pennies a week. :) Thanks for the post!

  18. Jane says:

    We’ve had a Sodastream for over six years. We originally bought it because I love seltzer and it is really expensive in the grocery store, especially if you figure it is just carbonated water. Like everyone else, that’s my main use of it. My husband, however, drinks a lot of soda stream flavor, and I imagine we have saved tons over the years on that. Now you can buy the syrups at many retail stores, including Sears and Bed Bath and Beyond. We actually get points on our credit card, get gift cards for BBB, and use the 20% coupon to buy syrup for my husband.

    I’m sorry, but I have to take issue with this: “But if you’re drinking three cans of soda a day for five years, it’s going to have a crippling impact on your health, which isn’t a bargain.”

    This is hyperbole. Crippling? Really? I drink about 3 cans of soda a day, and last time I had my blood work done, I was in excellent health. Sure, I could lose a few pounds like most Americans, but I don’t see how the soda is the problem, considering I drink diet. I think I’ve said this before on here, but soda is somehow the hated substance of our time. You go anywhere on the internet and find people calling it “poison in a can” or whatever. It’s so hated, but somehow Pepsi and Coke are still thriving. Go figure. I guess either you hate it or you love it and drink it all the time.

  19. “assuming the device lasts a long time (I don’t see why it wouldn’t.)”

    I do. Most small appliances are poorly made these days, with planned obsolescence built in. Having seen the numbers Trent has run, I have little confidence the machine would hold up long enough to reach the break even point. Granted, I don’t know how technologically complicated the machine is, so maybe it could be fixed at home if/when it broke down. But stuff like this is generally not made to high standards.

  20. Katie says:

    My parents have one, which they just use for unflavored carbonated water. I think it’s great – I enjoy visiting them and having it available (though don’t really have space for it in my small apartment). They used to buy carbonated water; I suspect that the savings are greater for that usage than for conventional soda. There are also convenience and environmental savings to think about (you don’t have to drag bottles of the stuff home from the store and the soda stream bottles are reusable).

    I think it’s a little silly to say people should “just drink water” instead. I love water; I also love sometimes having beverages other than water. They’re not really entirely fungible.

  21. Lisa says:

    I love my SodaStream. But I’m not wild about their syrups. However, the DaVinci syrups, especially the sugar-free ones, are really good. Ever had a tiramisu Italian soda? Mmmm.

  22. Adam P says:

    Sorry, I agree with Trent on the soda thing. Read “The Sugar Fix” and see how many cans of soda a day you can chug down.

  23. TLS says:

    I make a lightly carbonated beverage at home called ‘water kefir’. There is a small initial outlay to get the water kefir grains you need, but after that, the cost is minimal. You can flavor it in any way you choose. It is healthy and tasty.

    You can get the grains online at Cultures for Health.

  24. graytham says:

    Why is #12’s blatantly Israel-bashing comment allowed through, when so many others that merely mention a website are put into moderation? I’m disappointed to see a comment like that here, and reading that garbage really ruined my visit to TSD today.

  25. Tanya says:

    We have a SodaStream machine and we use it to make orange pop. We don’t drink it by the gallon, but we do enjoy having it in the house. It’s convenient, tasty and fun to have available. I think, in the long run, it will save us money.

  26. Jane says:

    Like I said above, we’ve had our Sodastream machine for over six years, and it is still going strong. The technology is pretty uncomplicated, and you are replacing regularly one important part – the actual cartridge. I have at least six friends who have machines as well (it spread like wildfire once everyone realized how nice it was), and they have all been used for a very long time. One friend bought one in Germany and the company replaced it with an American version once they moved back to the States. I imagine they would replace one if on the off chance it broke.

    I think one of the biggest benefits of the machine is that you don’t have to recycle all the cans or bottles. Plus you are getting the water from the tap, so you are minimizing the amount of fossil fuels it takes to transport soda from one place to another. Plus this means I also don’t have to lug soda or seltzer home from the grocery store every week. This is also an added value to me.

  27. em says:

    To all those who drink diet and think its not hurting you I would recommend doing some research on all the artificial sweeteners in your sodas because they are crippling on your health. They can cause minor symptoms like headaches, blurred vision, trouble sleeping, and many more or they can make serious health problems worse or progress faster. Drinking regular soda is much safer, not that its healthy either but healthier.

  28. Jonathan says:

    I also agree with Trent regarding the negative effects of soda on ones health. Even diet soda is full of all sorts of substances that are unhealthy. I’m not saying everyone should give up soda. I still drink it from time to time myself. I fully realize the negative health impacts, though.

  29. Tom says:

    Kate, #19 – Don’t confuse cheaply made and poorly made. My guess is that SodaStream is on a razor/razor blade model, and they’ll quickly lose their customer base if their relatively expensive machine breaks down ($80 for the machine is way more than most toasters or coffepots).
    I’d be more worried about new machine models changing, making it harder to come by the consumables. That’s where planned obsolescence comes to play.

  30. Jonathan says:

    @graytham (#24) – How is comment #12 “Israel-bashing”? You may not agree that the area in question is an illegal settlement, but that hardly constitutes bashing. The fact is that there is controversy regarding who has legal rights to the area, so the statement made by Dena Shunra is not only not “garbage”, but is a valid opinion that mirrors that of many others throughout the world.

  31. Gretchen says:

    I gave up so much other unhealthy crap, I’m keeping the soda.

  32. JS says:

    Most sodas- diet and regular- have phosphoric and/or citric acid added, which erodes tooth enamel (a study in the Journal of Oral Rehabilitation found dental erosion from plain carbonated water to be very low). Looking at the SodaStream website, it looks like most of their syrups have these added acids, so even sugar-free homemade soda is going to potentially increase your dental bills. And of course, sugared soda will have an even greater negative effect on your teeth.

  33. Jenny says:

    I have a soda stream and I got it not only for the cost benefits – I drink a bit more than a 12 pack a week, but also for the health benefits. Here’s why – regular coke has high fructose corn syrup. Died coke has aspartame. Neither of those things are good for me. Soda stream “coke” uses real sugar and their diet uses Splenda. Now it may be splitting hairs, but I’d rather have regular sugar or Splenda than HFC or aspartame.

    Anyway, I find the difference in taste to be just enough that I drink less soda now than I used to. I do drink the other flavors, but my soda consumption has gone way down – from 3-5 cans a day to maybe 1/2 a liter. I think the $99 I spent on the machine is worth it just for that alone.

  34. I just bought one of these recently and I can definitely say that I ran my own numbers in my head at least and no it won’t significantly save me money and it will take more than a year to ‘break even’. BUT I did it not only for the ‘hidden’ costs of buying store soda as other people have pointed out (fossil fuel costs for transport, possible manufacturing waste and forced recycling of cans/bottles) but in fact to promote us drinking less soda. I find the bottles don’t hold the carbonation well and therefore you have to make it when you want it versus just popping a top or opening a bottle. Besides, I have always thought ‘fountain’ soda tasted best when you get the carbonation/syrup ratio correct and I can always seem to taste the aluminum in canned soda!

    Plus, even though it still has some ‘bad’ elements in it being soda syrup, it is made with real sugar mixed with Splenda versus HFCS and I would much rather have my type 1 diabetic daughter drinking a ‘real’ soda with 8 grams of carbs per serving than a diet soda with artifical sweeteners that have studies backing their destructive effects on how our bodies process sugar. Granted Splenda hasn’t been fully proven either way yet and I’d be much happier if it was made with Stevia but in my mind at least, it’s better than conventional soda.

  35. AnnJo says:

    I’ve had a Soda Club machine for over three years, used mostly for making seltzer water, but occasionally sodas. By my calculations, the cost of the CO2 runs about 14 cents or less for a liter of seltzer or soda. I could buy a 2L bottle of seltzer for about 85 cents on sale, so in theory, I’ve recouped the price of the machine after about 330 liters. That was probably a year ago.

    Of course, the reality was that I could never justify to myself paying for someone to put bubbles in tap water, shipping oil from across the globe to make a plastic bottle to put the bubbly water into, shipping that bottle from the manufacturer to the grocery store, etc., so I never bought seltzer water.

    So the device has actually increased my expenditures, but I’m more than satisfied with it.

    Another advantage is that you can control the degree of carbonation in your beverage, so if you like things more fizzy or less fizzy than store-bought, you can have it the way you like it.

  36. kristine says:

    graytham, I also do not see how it was Israel bashing,. It was a civil and polite opinion- and it was indeed a factor of his purchase. I guess I feel the need to stand up and say something here, as a traveling exhibit of drawings by Palestinian children is being censored in the midwest US. The children are the innocent bystanders of conflict, and the exhibit shows their hand-drawn childhood witness- rockets from the sky, dead townspeople, covering their eyes. It does not matter the sides, it is just sad when the fears of children, told as drawings, are censored, and people are trying terribly to discredit what they would rather not see. (As an art educator, I can say the level of skill certainly appears age appropriate). It is like choosing to look away. So anyway-I felt like I should also stand up for #12.

  37. em says:

    Splenda is no better then high fructose corn syrup or aspertame, it just has less of a history of problems surrounding it because its hasn’t been around as long, but those problems are certainly there. If you want to know how any of these things effect you (including sugar) then go 2 weeks without them. Most people will notice by then, if not sooner, the horrible effects these artificial and highly refined sweeteners have on the body. If you do choose to do this expect a withdraw period starting around day 2 or 3 and lasting as long as a week depending on how addicted your body is to these toxins, Just thought I’d put that out there since people are talking about no calorie sodas as a healthier option.

  38. Brittany says:

    Don’t know know, friends? Anyone who says anything acknowledging the humanity and potential rights of Palestinians is Israel-bashing.

  39. littlepitcher says:

    @32JS–The phosphoric acid also contributes to osteoporosis. Sodium in sodas has been linked to high blood pressure and heart disease.

    That said, good ginger ale and birch ale/beer recipes abound, and the first edition of the Ball Blue Book (1907) has a large-quantity recipe for root beer.

    I’ll stick to green and herb teas. Local water is terrible.

  40. AnnJo says:

    Re: Israel-bashing: My understanding is that Sodastream’s production facility in Israel is on the outskirts of Beersheba. If that is “Occupied Palestinian Territories” then so is Tel Aviv or anywhere else in Israel. Calling all of Israel “Occupied Palestinian Territories” would pretty much be the definition of “Israel-bashing” since it denies the country the right to exist. If Dena @12 is referring to some other facility, I’d want to know where it is before assuming Dena’s comment is not “Israel-bashing.”

    And if decades-old grievances whose impacts are still felt today are a basis for boycotts, then Dena should also be boycotting Austria, which cooperated with the Nazis in reducing a pre-WWII Jewish population of close to 200,000 people to under 2,000, mostly by murder and with the confiscation of all their property, possibly including the land on which Dena’s product is manufactured.

  41. Sarah R says:

    I received a SodaStream for my birthday just over a month ago, and I love it. I am not concerned whether it will pay back the cost, because I like that I can choose my own flavors and sweetener levels, and we’re taking a LOT fewer cans and bottles back for the 10-cent refund at the supermarket, which saves me time.

    I am using the syrups that came with my starter kit, but after that, I plan to flavor inexpensively with lemon and lime peel and herbs from my garden(try spearmint and lime together – it’s divine!), so that should be pretty inexpensive.

    It’s a fun toy. I enjoy it. I figure I won’t save money but it should all even out.

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