How to manage your end-of-semester meal points like a pro

As you pay for your chicken strips at Golden Bear Cafe, you take the receipt absentmindedly, heading to the condiment station to grab some ketchup. You glance at that placard on the wall, the one your eyes always seem to skip over — you know, that orange and green one that help you track how many meal points you should have left. You glance at the nearest date to today listed on the placard, then down to the meal point total, and …

Oh, crap.

As we head into the last few weeks of the fall semester, it is very likely that you’ve noticed one of two things:

1. You’re way, way under. You don’t have enough meal points left to last until dead week, much less through finals. You could always buy more meal points, but explaining that to your parents? That’s not something you want to deal with unless you absolutely have to. So unless you steal someone else’s Cal-1 Card, you’re basically doomed to starve as far as you are concerned.

Or:

2. You’re way, way over. Your meal points could feed a family of four for the rest of semester at the rate you’ve been spending them. All of those dinners out, those times you slept through breakfast, those days you ate Easy Mac in your dorm room five minutes before class — they added up, and it is now your responsibility to make sure hundreds of prepaid dollars don’t go down the drain.

It’s an end-of-semester situation plenty of us have dealt with: the meal point juggle. There’s no use worrying about what you should or should not have done — instead, think about what you can do now. Sure, you can just buy more meal points or forget about those extra points, but both those scenarios involve wasting large sums of money, which is just poor economic sense. Regardless which side of the spectrum you’re on, there are plenty of creative solutions that can aid your in your quest for meal point management.  And really, there is nothing more we would love than to give you a hand.

If you don’t have enough meal points:

clog.mealpoints1.krandel

Michaela Swensen/File

Yeah, you definitely have the more difficult situation here. But if you realize your predicament early enough and are resourceful with what you have left, you can make a few meal points go a long way.

1. Learn when the cafes are your friends and when they’re evil.

We know this feels cruel to you, but for the next few weeks, you are going to have to bid farewell to those tri-tip plates from Pat Brown’s, Ramona’s paninis and chips and, yes, your beloved chicken strips and fries from GBC. We are really sorry, but it is for your own good. In almost every situation, a meal you buy from any of these places costs more than an all-you-can-eat dining commons swipe. Ditch the on-campus dining locations — chances are that the seven or eight points you spend for lunch or dinner at Cafe 3 are way less than you would have spent at Qualcomm. You’re also going to need to say goodbye to your morning Peet’s from The Den. Coffee and other non-necessities become a huge money suck faster than you realize. But places like The Den and Cub Market are not completely off limits — Luna bars, pastries, and other a la carte breakfast substitutes are a better choice than Crossroads waffles when it comes to price. If you don’t mind cutting down on the size of your breakfast, you’ll be a lot better off just snacking on a granola bar in the morning instead of paying for a dining hall swipe.

2. Trade for other people’s meal points — but you don’t have to trade money.

Maybe your roommate has a ton of meal points but needs help with Math 1A. Maybe you have a secret talent for songwriting or have a car. When you don’t have meal points, use your talents and resources as leverage. Offer to drive someone to the BART station if he or she swipes you in for dinner. Paint your friend’s nails for her, but only if she covers lunch afterward. Let your floormates borrow your super nice speakers, but make them pay you back with Late Night. There are tons of ways you can get people to fork over some of their meal points for you — you just have to get creative.

3. Fulfill your secret lifelong dream of becoming a food ninja.

We know you are not supposed to take food out of the dining halls, but desperate times call for desperate measures. You are at the point where it is OK to sneak a PB&J sandwich into your backpack for later or bring your reusable takeout container in at lunch to fill for that evening’s dinner. The key is not getting caught — we’ve all seen that one person glaring at the Cal Dining staff as they begrudgingly empty their backpack of all the apples they attempted to take. Be discreet, and you could, quite literally, get yourself two meals for the price of one. Just pretend like you are back home eating leftovers. Plus, this is an exercise in stealth, so you are basically being a secret agent.

If you have too many meal points:

Arya Aliabadi/file

Arya Aliabadi/File

Think of this as less of a problem and more as a fun puzzle — the most fun, delicious puzzle ever.

1. Use your meal points for more than just meals.

Did you know that The Den sells travel coffee mugs? Or that Bear Market sells paper plates and chapstick? Or that you can use your meal points to buy a yoga mat from the RSF Pro Shop? The next time you need to do a Walgreens run or replace your dishware, try Cal Dining first. The cafes adjacent to the dining halls  — depending on which ones you check — often have tons of things you would never think to get there. Stock up on sundries, buy your friends back home mugs and use up your meal points like your life depends on it.

2. Go grocery shopping at Bear Market. No, seriously. Go grocery shopping.

Do it for you, for friends or for whomever. Bear Market is your new best friend — or you can check out Cub Market by Foothill, if that is closer to you. Your friend in an apartment needs some snacks? He should hit you up. You know you are going to end up buying a ton of apple cider for New Year’s Eve in a few weeks? Might as well just get it now and bring it home. If you are driving home for the holidays or know you might have some extra room in your suitcase, check with your parents to see if there’s anything they need. It’s worth your time and money to think ahead right now. Just don’t head to Bear Market or Cub Market too late in the semester. Merchandise starts to disappear during dead week, and by the time finals rolls around, it can be really difficult to find what you need.

3. Literally buy popularity for the month.

Meal points can’t buy friendship, but they can buy Ben and Jerry’s, and in the end, that is basically the same thing. You can afford to be generous right now, so use that to your advantage. Treat your roommate to a Ben and Jerry’s run. Offer to go on Bear Market runs for people in your student organizations. Take your entire floor to Late Night. Find someone with the not-enough-meal-points problem to be your new tutor or study buddy. You’re about to become everyone’s best friend, so bask in the power you now possess.

Image Source: Aaron Loessberg-Zahl under Creative Commons

Contact Kelsi Krandel at [email protected].