If you live on campus, you have a meal plan, per your room and board fees. Ball State Dining Services allows one breakfast swipe before 11 a.m. each day and two swipes between 11 a.m. and midnight that can be used together or in separate purchases.
Here are some ways to effectively use your meal plan at any on-campus locations:
Skip the soft drink:
The freshman 15 is a real thing and while your total meal may leave you with $1.85 to spare, a large soft drink is not the solution.
Save some money and calories by choosing to grab two 12 ounce cups of water instead. Not only is this a free alternative to your regular soft drink option, but it will save you some calories and provide you with extra money to spend on other items.
Use all of your meal plan:
If you don’t use your entire meal swipes — $5.35 for breakfast and $9 each for lunch and dinner — then you’re cheating yourself. Even if you’re not super hungry in the moment, use whatever leftover money you have to buy a bottled drink or a snack that can be eaten later so you don’t have to use dining plus when you need a quick snack.
Don’t buy full meals with dining plus:
While there is no harm in using 30 or 40 cents of your dining plus when your meal swipe won’t quite cover the meal, spending chunks of your dining plus at once will cause it to quickly diminish. If possible, you should only dip into your dining plus when it’s absolutely necessary. This will save you money over time and allow you to keep maximizing your meal plan.
With that said, if it’s the end of the semester and you have $30 leftover, go nuts. Buy every snack you can for your ride home.
Dining plus rolls over:
If it’s the end of the fall semester and you realize you haven’t used as much dining plus as is on your plan, don’t fret. The remainder will be added to your dining plus for the spring semester.
If it’s the spring semester though, and you have money left over, definitely use it. This is something you already paid for and it will just go to waste if you don’t make use of it.
Find cheap alternatives:
One of the best ways to save money on campus is to figure out food prices at each one of the dining halls.
Some items are cheaper in certain locations than they are in other places on campus. If you know where the cheaper options are when you have a craving, it will go a long way in getting you more food.
Also, Starbucks coffee is great, but there are several other locations on campus where you can get your caffeine buzz for half the price.
Get a water bottle/coffee mug:
Having these two items in your backpack will go a long way to ensure that you are hydrated on campus and awake enough to finish that homework assignment at Bracken Library.
Plus, reusable containers go a long way in reducing the amount of waste you produce. While refilling personal water bottles and travel mugs at soda dispensers was prohibited during the 2020-21 school year on account of the COVID-19 pandemic, dining customers will be allowed to use them again come this fall.
Although soft drinks can be a tempting purchase, having a water bottle allows you to stay healthy and allocate meal swipe money toward more food or snacks for later.
Actually use your swipes:
It’s too easy to go out to dinner every night one week and forget that you have an on-campus meal plan. Don’t forget to use your plan regardless of what you eat throughout the week. And keep track of how many meal swipes you are paying for — there are options for 10, 14, 18 or 21 per week that you pay for at the beginning of the semester. Do your best to use every swipe.
Even if it’s just buying a few bags of chips or some drinks for later, it’s better than not using your meal plan at all.
Find on-sale items:
Believe it or not, certain foods like fruits and vegetables do have a shelf life. Often, to get rid of these items, Dining Services will mark them as 50 percent off if the shelf life is coming to an end.
So if you’re looking for a light snack that you can eat right away, be sure to check fridges for on-sale items. It never hurts to get cheap food.
Clayton McMahan contributed to this article.