Bang for Your Buck: Are OU's Meal Plans Worth the Cost?
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Bang for Your Buck: Are OU's Meal Plans Worth the Cost?

Discover the cost of dining at OU with and without a meal plan

Bang for Your Buck: Are OU's Meal Plans Worth the Cost?

This semester, I embarked on two new adventures. One, living in an off-campus apartment; and two, working in one of OU's dining areas. Those two things may not seem connected, but they definitely are. Although my apartment is subsidized by the university, it is not technically on campus. It's about a 30-minute walk or 15-minute bike ride away. Because of that, and the fact that my apartment has a kitchen, I decided not to purchase a meal plan this semester. Ironically, I ended up getting a job at a group of restaurants on campus. When you work around food often enough, you either despise it or crave it. I usually fall into the craving category. That's where not having a meal plan comes in.

In case you aren't familiar with how meal plans work at OU, allow me to explain. There are various types of meal plans, some geared toward freshman, some to commuters, and some to everyone. These plans consist of points and/or meal exchanges. 1 point equals $1. The current value of a meal exchange is $8.50. Students purchase one or both types of payment and use them to buy food around campus. Most restaurants take meal exchanges, but some only allow points. Sometimes, both are needed. For example, if your total comes to $10, you use a meal exchange and then 1.5 points.

Many restaurants adjust their prices to fit with a meal exchange, so students can purchase an entire meal with an exchange. This is a nice system because of its convenience. However, the question arises, are students with meal plans spending less than students without them? It sure seems like it. When I'm not working, and I want to buy food on campus, I have to pay with either cash or debit. I immediately feel the loss of that money, whether it's leaving my hand or my bank account. I don't have the luxury of swiping my student card and not having to worry about how much it cost.

Obviously, students with meal plans aren't eating for free. They pay for the plan all at once at the beginning of the semester and don't have to worry about it until the next. Does having a meal plan save students money, or is it just as expensive as paying out-of-pocket for every meal? Let's crunch some numbers.

Freshman meal plans currently cost $2,308 per semester. The different plans are 12 meals a week and 250 points a semester, 10 meals and 400 points, 8 meals and 550 points, and 6 meals and 700 points. Let's look at the first plan. A meal exchange is worth $8.50, you get 12 meals a week, and there are 16 weeks in a semester. Therefore, the value of those meals is $1,632. When you add the points, which are a dollar each, the total comes to $1,882. That's how much the 12/250 plan is worth. But look at how much it costs! You are actually paying $426 more than the value of the plan. The difference is even larger with the rest of the plans.

I am confident that my math is correct, but I also concede that some of that extra money may be going towards convenience and paying the restaurant employees. Even so, that makes meal plans seems less than sensible. Without a meal plan, you don't have to worry about paying for more than you're getting.

This disturbing overcharging for meal plans also occurs in the enhanced and commuter plans. The only time you actually save money is when you dine at Couch Restaurants or in the Residential Colleges dining halls. If you have a meal plan, you can have access to all-you-can-eat food with a meal exchange, which is valued at $8.50. However, the cash price for entering those dining areas is $12.50 for lunch and dinner and $10.50 for breakfast. If you purchase one of the commuter plans where you can only get meals from either Couch Restaurants or Headington Hall, you end up paying $11.40 and $11.70 per meal, respectively. When you eat at these places for lunch and dinner, you save about a dollar. When you eat there for breakfast, you lose about a dollar. If you eat there for every meal, you basically break even.

This price discrepancy gets worse when you don't use all of your meals each week. Unlike points, meals don't roll over. For every meal that goes unused each week, you lose $8.50. I'm lucky to have friends who occasionally use one of their exchanges on me, but it turns out I'm also doing them a favor. Points roll over from Fall semester to Spring semester, but they expire the Friday of Spring finals week. Luckily, most people have no problem spending all of their points. After all, it's basically like using a debit card.

After seeing these numbers, I don't feel as bad about having to pay out-of-pocket for every meal I eat on campus. I don't eat there much anyway, so a meal plan wouldn't be worth it solely for the convenience. I'm not even sure if it's worth it for students living on campus who eat there daily.

One other thing I'd like to point out that I've noticed from working at on-campus restaurants is the price of the food. The prices seem fair to students with meal plans who can usually get an entire meal with an exchange. But those of us who have to pay with cash or debit may not be willing to spend so much money on certain foods. For example, where I work at Cate Restaurants, one piece of fruit-apple, orange, banana-costs $1.55. You can almost buy a pound of fruit for that much at the grocery store! A cup of soup costs $5, which you could use to buy 5 cans of soup. A B.L.T. sandwich by itself costs $6.50. It's an additional $2.25 to make it a combo with fries and a drink. That's a meal that costs even more than an exchange.

These discoveries may be shocking for OU students who have/had a meal plan. Even if you don't go to OU, you may find this upsetting. They say that numbers speak for themselves, but I also feel that OU should have a chance to defend themselves. They may have a good reason for charging more for meal plans than their actual value. For now, I will give them the benefit of the doubt. I have given you only the information accessible to me. I hope you find it helpful, or at least enlightening. If you're an OU student, feel free to leave your thoughts on living with or without a meal plan.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.

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