If you’re a college student, chances are the one of your biggest struggles revolves around food: what to get, where to get it from, how much is too much for a sandwich and how to satisfy your cravings while being somewhat healthy.
College meal plans are one of the hardest things to navigate, in my opinion. It’s nearly impossible to decide what you want and if your school’s like mine and doesn’t use the swipe system (and instead has you pay per item), you don’t even really know how much you’re paying until you ring up at the cashier and you see your total flash before your eyes.
Even if you’re on a swipe system, you’re faced with the dilemma of whether or not to swipe in, not knowing how good the food will be at a certain time of day or whether you’ll even find anything that’s appetizing.
As summer’s approaching and now that I’ve had a full year of experience with the Caf, I thought I’d share some of the best ways to make the most of all your meal plan money so you don’t have leftover swipes or leftover money when the semester comes to a close.
1. Calculate how much money / how many swipes you can use every day
This one may seem like an obvious one but you’d be surprised how many people forget to do this and then either spend too little or too much in the beginning half of their semesters and then end up having to compensate the second half. I suggest sitting down in the very beginning of the semester, counting how many days you’ll realistically eat in the dining hall and then doing some simple division to figure out how much you can realistically use.
2. If your dining hall lets you bring food home, grab some snacks for later.
This is another really easy trick that’s often times overlooked. Personally, every time I’m in my caf, I make a point to stop and get some hummus for the pita chips in my dorm room or some cereal to munch on while I’m studying for an exam. It’s an easy way to use your money for something that you’ll actually need and it’ll also stop you from making Target runs to get snacks that you could just as easily purchase at your dining hall.
3. If you enjoy making smoothies, get the ingredients from your dining hall!
This is something that kind of relates to the previous tip but if you have a blender in your room and are a huge smoothie fiend like I am, consider getting things like yogurt, milk, coconut water, fruits and veggies from your salad bar instead of going to the grocery store. That way, you’re saving some “real money” and taking advantage of your already paid for dining hall food!
4. If your school operates on a swipe system, try to get packaged food or bring Tupperware to put some food in that you can eat later.
This tip is geared more towards kids who are scavenging in order to feed themselves the last few days of the semester. Getting packaged food means that you can refrigerate it and eat it later and the same goes for Tupperwared food. If you’re already paying for the swipe, you might as well get your money’s worth!
5. Try to study in your caf, drinking the coffee you can use your meal plan on!
I think one of my biggest weaknesses is a Skinny Hazzlenut Latte from Starbucks but that money really adds up and if you can limit yourself to only one or two a week by opting to drink something from your caf instead, you can really use your meal plan and still study in a different environment than your bedroom.
Those are my biggest tips that I learned freshman year of college. If you’re already paying for a meal plan, it’d be stupid not to get the most out of it. Eat well and good luck my prospies! (And if you have any other tips, please share them with me, I’d love to hack the caf in some new ways!)