Get the Point: Understanding and Budgeting Your Meal Points

It happens the same way every semester – I come to campus, I settle into my dorm, I go to class, I eat dinner with my friends…and yet, somehow, three weeks before the end of semester, the cashier hands my red card back, shakes her head, and says, “You have cash, honey? You’re out of meal points.”

Thankfully, I’m usually with a friend when this happens.  They give me an eye roll, laugh, and I thank them as they agree to pay for my lunch.  As we wade through the sea of people, I always ask myself the same question, “How did this happen?” and the answer is always the same – I just didn’t keep track of it.

Now, while you can always check your balance here, for some reason I never do.  I don’t know if it’s laziness or the hope that somehow, some way, I’ll just magically make it through to the end of the semester with meal points to spare.  Unfortunately, this is never the case.

So, here are some tips and tricks on how you can stretch your meal points so you don’t go to your finals on an empty stomach.

1.  PICK YOUR PLAN CAREFULLY

Whether you’re a resident, apartment resident, or a commuter, you need to take a look at all the meal plan offerings and choose which one is best for you.  When choosing a meal plan, be honest about what kind of eater you are – do you tend to skip breakfast?  Do you like to snack late?  There is a meal plan for everyone.  For more information on meal plan offerings, visit the Campus Dining website, or simply click one of the following:

Resident
Apartment/Commuter

In addition, you should take a look at the prices of some of your favorite foods.  While it’s hard to predict what you’re going to be in the mood for weeks in advance, having a general idea of the cost of what you like to eat will make it easier to pick the right meal plan.  Check out the Price and Portion Guide here.

2.  UNDERSTAND YOUR PLAN

Before you can figure out how to get the most out of your meal points, you must first understand how many meal points you have to stretch.  For example, residents on the Platinum Meal Plan are budgeted $141.63 per week which translates into an average of 18 meals per week, at $7.87 a meal.

While these figures are suggested budgets, they are an excellent way to budget your meal points.  However, at the end of the day, you are the deciding authority regarding how your points are managed.  Your card isn’t going to decline, but it may cost you!  For example, if you go over $2 on breakfast, $3 on lunch, and another $3 on dinner, you’ve gone over $8 and essentially cost yourself a meal.

Now, while it’s easy to stay on track when it comes to breakfast (the selection is actually pretty cheap) and some lunch items (i.e. pizza), it’s just as easy to go over.  For example, one of my favorite lunches is a crispy chicken wrap ($6) with cheese ($0.58) and bacon ($0.85) – and I usually get a medium fountain soda ($1.50).  So, my favorite lunch winds up costing me $8.93.  And even though I’m only over $1.06, after a month that’s close to $21.20.  It adds up after a while.

Furthermore, you are only allotted 18 meals a week with the suggested budget.  This means that if you eat three meals a day, there is a whole day of meals that are unaccounted for.  This is due to the fact that some students tend to make their own meals, dine off campus, order in, or skip a meal altogether.  So, just be sure to keep these facts in mind when you’re deciding what to eat on (or off) campus!

3. MAKE MEALS AT HOME

Whether it’s a sandwich, or one of the recipes from our Microwave Monday series, making your own food is a great way to ensure that you’re going to have enough meal points to get you through the semester.  While buying groceries can get a little on the expensive side, check out BuzzFeed’s 27 Ways to Make Your Groceries Last As Long As Possible.

Making a PB&J twice a week or buying a box of cereal can definitely save you some serious meal points!

4. PACK A DRINK

In addition to packing a lunch, storing a drink in your backpack can save you the trouble of having to purchase one every time you eat.  Many local grocery stores, and other retailers such as Target and Walmart, run weekly promotions on soda, Red Bull, and other drinks.  Also, buying a cup of ice at the SAC is a lot cheaper than buying a medium soda.

In addition, investing in a recyclable water bottle is a good way to stay hydrated throughout the day, save the environment, and keep a little extra green in your wallet.  And with the new water fountains on campus, finding water is easier than ever.

While these tips and tricks might not completely save you from running out of meal points, it’ll definitely add a little more longevity to the life of your meal plan.  Just be sure to check your points weekly, and stay within your estimated budget so you don’t wind up having to add more points at the end of the semester.  Also, be sure to check out our Microwave Monday series for awesomely cheap and delicious recipes you can make in your dorm!

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