Stop Wasting Your Money on Bottled Water. Try These 5 Alternatives Instead

Heather Comparetto/The Penny Hoarder
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Americans are clearly dedicated to hydration. We drink water like it’s our job.

In fact, Americans drink an average of 39 gallons of bottled water per person each year.

That’s a lot of plastic water bottles.

As you’re probably expecting me to point out, it’s also a pretty significant impact to our environment.

But that’s a topic for another day.

Since this month is Plastic-Free July, I’d like to talk about the impact to our wallets.

Bottled Water: Why Not Just Pour Money Down the Drain?

As a Florida resident, I’m the last person who would ever argue against the importance of staying hydrated.

I know that grabbing the occasional bottle of water at a convenience store is a small price to pay to avoid passing out during a spirited game of outdoor volleyball in 93 degree weather.

It’s regularly buying bottled water that really adds up.

A 12-ounce bottle of still water can run you anywhere from 99 cents at a grocery store to $2.00 or more at a gas station or convenience store

And that’s just for plain water. Fancy water with added nutrients, flavoring and bubbles costs even more.

How Much Do Alternatives to Bottled Water Cost?

The obvious solution to disposable water bottles is to get your hands on a refillable water bottle or two and fill them up yourself.

When it comes to reusable bottles, you’ve got a few options.

Pricy but durable. Penny Hoarder staff photographer Heather Comparetto has a distressed wood water bottle that retails for about $25, but she says it’s well worth the money.

“Yes, they are expensive,” says Comparetto, “but they are so functional that I use mine every day. I can’t tell you the last time I purchased a plastic water bottle or even used a regular cup.”

Mid-range price with extra features. Several water bottles on the market are fairly affordable at around $10, but those aren’t rock-bottom prices. On the other hand, they do come equipped with neat extras like a storage compartment, fruit infuser, or (inexplicably) a wireless speaker.

Refillable water bottles at this price point are perfect for someone who has some extra dollars to spend on features that aren’t strictly necessary but make chugging water all day a little less boring.

Basic but cheap. You’ll find plenty of reuseable water bottles for less than $3 if you’re willing to forgo all the bells and whistles.

But, really, what more does a water bottle need than a spout and cap, right?

The best of both worlds. Depending on your level of comfort drinking from previously-owned beverage containers, you might be able to find a high-end water bottle or one with extra frills at a thrift store for dirt cheap — like a buck.  

I’ve also seen piles of brand new refillable bottles at my local thrift store emblazoned with company logos. Someone else’s swag giveaway is your treasure.

Free(ish). Reusing an empty bottle from disposable-bottled water you already bought is a good way to recycle and do a little something to help save the environment. Just make sure you wash it thoroughly with hot soapy water.

When You Hate, Hate, Hate Your Tap Water

Some people rely on water bottles to quench their thirst when they’re at work or on the go. But others buy bottled water to drink at home because they can’t or won’t drink tap water.

Like me, for instance.

Unlike many other areas of the nation, the tap water in my city is perfectly safe to drink but I don’t like the taste. It might be because the water comes into my house through the original copper piping laid down when the house was built 50-odd years ago.

Or maybe I’m just a water snob.

Either way, I don’t want the water that comes out of my faucet.

But I also don’t want to buy a zillion disposable plastic water bottles that will end up in a landfill somewhere.

Instead, I researched some other in-home options that improve tap water or bypass it altogether. Here’s what I learned.

Bring On the Math

For each option, I looked at:

  • The equipment cost of each system
  • The daily cost to drink 64 ounces of water per day using each system. I used my own water bill as a baseline, which works out to 10 cents per day, per 64 ounces of water.

Just for funsies, I also figured out how many 99-cent bottles of water you’d have to drink to break even on your investment using each system.

Bottled water is sold in a wide variety of sizes, packaging and price points. To arrive at a happy medium somewhere between volume-discounted multi-bottle flats of water and expensive premium single-serving sizes, I used a 12-ounce bottle of water at 99 cents for my calculations, which works out to $5.28 per day.

Pitcher Water Filters

Pitcher water filters are super easy to use. Just fill the pitcher by pouring tap water through the filter built into its lid, and then stash the pitcher in the fridge.

Cost of equipment: $17 for the pitcher system, $7 for a replacement filter that lasts about two months.

Cost per day: 21 cents

How many 99-cent bottles of water to break even? 25

Faucet Water Filters

Faucet water filters attach to your kitchen sink faucet to automatically filter water flowing through the tap.

Cost of equipment: $28 (and up) for the filter system, $26 for a replacement filter that lasts about three months.

Cost per day: 38 cents

How many 99-cent bottles of water to break even? 55

Countertop Water Filters

Countertop water filters sit next to your sink and filter water from the tap to dispense directly from the appliance.

Cost of equipment. $60 for the filter system, $25 for a three-pack of replacement filters that last about three months each

Cost per day: 37 cents

How many 99-cent bottles of water to break even? 85

Refillable Jugs (5 Gallon)

Many grocery, big box and home improvement stores sell refillable plastic five-gallon jugs of water. Just tote the empties back to the store, refill them at the water kiosk and take them back home.

Cost of equipment: $13 per bottle and $7 to refill (local Publix), $6 for a hand press pump

Cost per day: 70 cents

How many 99-cent bottles of water to break even? 26

Water Delivery Service

Alternatively, you can have refillable five-gallon jugs delivered right to your door. The delivery company even drops off replacements when your bottles run dry.

Cost of equipment: $10 per bottle and $7 per month for water dispenser rental (from my monthly Crystal Springs water delivery bill)  

Cost per day: $1.23

How many 99-cent bottles of water to break even? 17

It’s worth noting reverse osmosis water systems and whole house filters are two other ways to always have tasty water available at home. However, they also come with hefty installation bills unless you’re a skilled DIYer.

What Works for Me

After considering all our choices, my husband and I decided to buy our own water in five-gallon jugs.

It may not be the most cost-effective choice per month (not by a long shot) but on the flipside, there was no upfront investment and we recouped our costs in a single day.

My water is tasty, so I happily drink an ocean of it every day. And, yes, I always dispense my water into a reusable bottle.

Lisa McGreevy is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She rarely drinks anything but water so this topic is serious business for her.