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What to Do If Your College Meal Plan Is Running Low

Stretching Your Nickels Doesn't Have to Mean Shrinking Your Stomach


Young Woman Grocery Shopping
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It's the end of the semester. You're stressed, you're tired, you have finals and papers and lab reports and ten million other things due. Oh, and what's that? Your meal plan is dangerously low?

Meal plans only seem to run low (or out!) at the worst of times. And just as you're seeing your friends buy cases of soda with their additional meal plan funds, you're hoping you can make yours last until the end of the semester. Being smart about using those last precious dollars or credits, however, can be done with a little creative planning.

  1. Find a friend with too much on their meal plan. You may not have a lot left on your meal plan, but you probably have friends with too much left on theirs. Try to figure out how you can deal in trade. Do you have tons of print cartridges? Money on your laundry card? A gift certificate for the campus bookstore? An overloaded copy card? Great editing skills that might come in handy for your friend's final paper?
  2. Eat smarter in the dining hall. True, you might be craving the pasta special of the night and a gigantic soda to get you through the evening, but that may end up being much more expensive than grabbing a sandwich and a medium soda. Watch what you buy and see how and where you can cut corners -- without leaving yourself hungry, of course.
  3. Head to the grocery store and stock up on cheap food. Most campus food sources are relatively expensive. For much less than you would spend in the dining hall, you can buy some cheaper items (cereal, lunch meats, fruits and veggies, protein bars, and the infamous Top Ramen). Complement what money you have left on your campus meal plan with smart alternatives that won't break your budget.
  4. Find cheap meals that you can cook, even in your residence hall. From taquitos in your microwave to macaroni and cheese, there are lots of ways to stretch your nickels without having to shrink your stomach.
  5. Don't use your credit card unless you absolutely have to -- and only then, use it at the grocery store. Credit cards should be used in emergency situations only. So if you are going to go hungry unless you use it, using it is a good idea. But aim to buy cheaper things at the grocery store than the high-priced items in your school cafeteria or restaurants.

Lastly, don't forget the most important lesson to take away from your meal plan experience: learn how to pick the right meal plan next semester to avoid having one more thing to worry about as next semester comes to a close.

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