Save your nuts before winter

Michelle Poje

Upperclassmen provide advice for budgeting the meal plan

Sandy Rothacher swipes freshman conservation major Erin McNutt’s FlashCard at Munchies Convenience Store in Prentice Hall. Students should learn to budget meal plan money to keep from running out by the end of the semester.

Credit: Steve Schirra

Fast forward to the final weeks of fall semester.

You and your friends are planning to celebrate the arrival of the holiday season and you have graciously agreed to provide the food for an end-of-semester bash — with the help of your meal plan.

As you check out the multitude of goodies at the on-campus store, you are shocked to discover you have a mere $5 left on your meal plan with three weeks of school to go and a roomful of hungry party animals to feed. Now what?

For many college students, this scenario may seem all too real. While various dining plans offer close to or more than $1,000 per semester, those infamous late-night pizza runs and extra snacking may catch up with students toward the end of the semester, leaving them empty-handed.

But for some who have dealt with the issue of budgeting meal plan money, there are ways for students to keep from running out by the end of the semester.

One solution is paying close attention to where you grocery shop or dine.

“If you have a job, use your own money to grocery shop off-campus because the food tends to be cheaper,” psychology major Beth Wittenauer said.

For Chris Straszheim, a psychology and nursing major, price guides, which can be found at cash registers in stores and restaurants on campus, can help students keep track of their money. Students can also obtain a price guide at

“The guides list what amount of money you should still have on your plan at certain times throughout the semester, so you can see if you are spending too much or not,” he said.

Eugene Walters, marketing manager for dining services, also finds the guides to be helpful.

“This is the way we tell students is the best way to budget their money,” he said.

Walters added that students can figure out how much they should spend per day by taking the total amount of money on their meal plan and dividing it by the 15 weeks in the semester. Students can then take that amount and divide it by the number of times they expect to eat on campus.

As history major Erin Perme said, eating meals off-campus can also save students some extra money.

“One thing I can remember doing that made a difference is I went home a lot on the weekends and saved money by not buying food on campus,” she said.

For students who do not have the option of going home for meals, pricing eateries on and off campus can help with budgeting.

“Just find the places you like that fit into your price range and try not to snack too much,” Wittenauer said.

And when it comes to feeding friends, it’s best to keep the gratuity to a minimum.

“It’s fine to treat friends every once in awhile, but don’t make a habit of it,” suggested Wittenauer.

If budgeting still continues to be a problem, using FlashCash may be a better option for some students. FlashCash, which is offered for commuter students and on-campus residents who are above sophomore standing, works like a debit card and allows students to continue adding money when they run out.

“I would recommend using FlashCash because it gives students more pricing options by allowing them to shop for food off campus as well,” said Straszheim.

Perme said FlashCash may be a good option, depending on their situation.

“FlashCash is good because it can be used at Acme and at some off-campus restaurants, and you don’t feel guilty paying a fortune for overpriced groceries,” she said. “But the meal plan is good if you aren’t able to get off campus very often or don’t have a car or have a hard time keeping your dorm stocked with food.”

Kent offers three dining plans for residence hall students and one for commuters that may fit each student depending on how little or how much they eat. A detailed list of the different dining options is available online at

Contact features reporter Michelle Poje at [email protected].