You’re spending too much money on your meal plan

YCMP plans are traps for off-campus students

Daily+Collegian+archives+%282020%29

Daily Collegian archives (2020)

By Luke Ruud, Assistant News Editor

When making the transition to living off campus, most students change their meal plan to a cheaper option with fewer meals to reflect the decreased time they’ll spend on campus. Many assume that they’re saving money by switching to cheaper meal plans like the YCMP options, but almost every off-campus meal plan is a blatant rip-off, depending on your habits.

By default, freshmen at the University of Massachusetts are assigned to the unlimited 250 meal plan, which provides unlimited meals at dining halls and 250 dining dollars to spend at retail locations at the price of $3,468 per semester. For most students living on campus, having an unlimited meal plan is necessary due to their lack of access to other meal sources. In a 15-week semester, students with the default meal plan spend $231.20 per week on meals. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average grocery budget per week for a one-person household is approximately $96.73.

While on-campus students are spending an average of $134.47 more per week on meals than the average American, the difference in price attributes to the cost of labor for cooking the food, the cost of kitchen appliances and the cost of the convenience of having a dining hall near one’s residence hall.However, students living off campus normally have kitchen appliances included in their leases and are no longer close to dining halls, which encourages many students to cook their own food and supplement their eating with cheaper campus dining plans like the YCMP program.

The YCMP program allows students to buy a set number of “YCMP swipes,” which are each worth $12.00 and can be used at dining halls or, more commonly, at Blue Wall and Harvest, both located in the Campus Center. The cheapest, most popular YCMP plan for students who only eat at campus once a day is the YCMP Off-Campus 65 plan, which includes 65 YCMP swipes and 125 dining dollars for $968 per semester.

You will likely lose money every semester with this plan.

If you were to buy 65 meals with cash over the course of the semester at $12 each, it would cost $780. Adding the 125 dining dollars to the 65 meals brings the total to $905 for the semester, which is $63 cheaper than buying the YCMP plan.

Due to current prices of meals at campus retailers inside Blue Wall like Tamales, Tavola and Star Ginger, students that use a YCMP swipe to buy a $10 meal are often not getting the full value of their swipe. If you bought a $10 meal at Blue Wall with cash 65 times in a semester and added $125 worth of other food, you would spend $775, saving $193 compared to the YCMP plan.

While buying meals at Blue Wall is the cheapest and arguably tastiest way to eat at UMass, it should be acknowledged that students that use their YCMP swipes at dining halls have a different calculation for their value.

At dining halls, breakfast costs $10.50, lunch costs $14.00 and dinner costs $17.00. If you used all of your 65 YCMP swipes on dining hall dinners and added $125 worth of other food, you would be buying meals with a total value of $1,230. In this case, it would make sense for you to get a YCMP meal plan. In fact, as long as you used over 13 of your YCMP swipes on dining hall dinners, you would save money by getting a YCMP meal plan.

Of course, there’s an option that lets you eat good, healthy food for a fraction of UMass’ price: cook your own food. College students have an unreasonable amount of self-doubt when it comes to cooking. Under half of college students report that they cook often, and 14 percent report that they never cook.

I eat well for under $60 a week with a Big Y card. I don’t even try to shop affordably, I just buy ingredients for easy meals. Students with any kind of dietary needs are rewarded by learning how to make a few simple dishes to prepare throughout the week.

Ever since I ditched my meal plan and learned how to air-fry chicken thighs and steam my own broccoli by watching YouTube videos, my health and happiness have drastically improved. The confidence gained from cooking a homemade meal encouraged me to learn how to bake bagels, make authentic barbacoa and fry the perfect chicken cutlet. If you have the attention span to read through an opinion column, you can read through a recipe.

Even I’m not above forking over $10 for a carnitas burrito from Tamales, but if you’re spending all your YCMPs on overpriced Harvest meals, you can and should do better.

Lucas Ruud can be reached at [email protected].