Getting your money’s worth: plan your dining

In the wake of the university’s dining contract negotiations and the Request For Proposal’s (RFP) request for community input, The Brandeis Hoot editorial board would like to urge the student body to attend the RFP open forum session on Oct. 28 and 29 and ask the university to allow them to choose how they spend their money on food at Brandeis.

Students who live on campus are required to have a meal plan. The current meal plan options that are available through Sodexo at Brandeis require students to also purchase a fixed amount of “points,” which can be spent in select locations on campus. For many students, especially first-years and sophomores, coming to Brandeis is the first time that they are being financially independent from their families, even if it is in a limited capacity. The points and meal swipes, however, encourage a relaxed approach to budgeting and semester spending, even though there is a suggested budget chart on Brandeis’ website. 

Meal swipes expire at the end of each week, and points expire at the end of each year. This expiration creates a pressure for students to either spend their money or watch it “disappear.” The pressure to spend these points and swipes also allows students to ignore the high prices that their swipes translate to and ignore the amount of money that they are actually spending on late-night C-Store runs. Additionally, the words “point” and “swipe” denote that the act of spending money is a game rather than the act of spending limited funds. 

Even though there are price signs at the swipe stations when entering the dining halls, these signs are small and the prices are inconsequential to students when they understand that they have already spent money on their swipes. And, at the C-Store, not every item has a label with how much it costs, which encourages students to simply pick out the things they want and hope that they have enough points left to cover what they are buying.

The first step to combat this is to attend the RFP open forum session to ensure that the dining committee and the administration are advocating for your ability to be financially responsible while at Brandeis. With this, we commend the university for making strides to help students be more fiscally responsible by including the new Brandeis Core requirement category of Health, Wellness and Life Skills (HWL), which offers courses such as “Financial Literacy for College Graduates.” Topics discussed in the class include “bank accounts, salary and job benefits, managing credit and saving for long-term goals,” according to the syllabus. 

There are ways to save in college, apart from budgeting your points and meal plans. One tip to be more fiscally responsible is to take advantage of resources on campus. For example, if you live off campus and do not have a meal plan or have food-related difficulties, Brandeis has an on campus free food pantry stocked with nonperishables, in which students can take a few items as needed. There is an online registration form, and the pantry itself is located in the Graduate Student Center conference room in Kutz Hall. 

Classes like the ones offered in the new HWL curriculum can give students valuable skills in budgeting. However, Brandeis can still improve upon students’ understanding of budgeting and spending habits. Points are money, and students need to understand that the system that Brandeis uses does not translate to the real world. The money you save in real life does not disappear if you don’t spend it, and you are not on a time-crunch to buy things with it. Outside of meal plans and points, there are ways to save money during college and learn how to budget, despite the arguably negative effects of the spend-or-lose system.

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