After the beloved Maggie’s Cafe shut down at the end of the last academic year, where many students spent the majority of their flex points, the benefits and drawbacks of the standard 14-Flex meal plan had to be reevaluated. Many students rely on flex points to keep them supplied with coffee beverages, but for the minority of students who do not drink coffee, including myself, flex points can be unnecessary and result in excess spending.
Even with the addition of the Trail Room coffee bar and market, I opted not to purchase flex points with my meal plan this year. This was a result of the location and hour changes as well as my adaptation to a college dining routine, during which I learned what is most efficient for me.
One can buy items at the local Fred Meyer for two thirds or sometimes even half the price of an equivalent sold in the market. Without a car, it can be time consuming to fit in trips to the grocery store, but I find that a weekly bus ride to Fred Meyer is worth the money I save. Additionally, Fred Meyer has more fresh options as well as a variety of foods to satisfy dietary restrictions. It comes down to the individual’s preference of convenience versus thrift, and in a fast-paced college environment, I understand that convenience often has to win out.
Buying all the food to supplement meal swipes off campus requires more planning than spontaneous jaunts to the market. This is why I still utilize the market occasionally and just pay with a card. Flex points are equal to dollars, so there is no financial benefit to using them in the long run. The primary attraction is that one does not have to pay immediately, but can rather pay with their tuition.
However, having a blanket amount of 200 points per semester that one has to use up encourages spending when it is not necessary. By having no set amount of money that I need to use up, I can limit my spending on campus to only when it is most convenient or essential.
The cozy atmosphere of Maggie’s is not replicated in the Trail Room nor in the closet-like space of the market. Even with the Trail Room’s new layout and furniture, the nature of the large, echoing space does not lend itself to the same environment of a small, bustling cafe. While the Trail Room can be great for meals and student events, I seldom use it as a social place to relax with friends, which was the primary time that I found myself buying snacks at Maggie’s. While the Dovecote certainly has the cozy cafe atmosphere down, its limited hours make it inconvenient to find a time to pop in.
I think that ideally there could be the option to have fewer than 14 meal swipes a week, and then supplement additional flex points for the same cost. The way meal plans are currently structured limits flexibility to cook for oneself without wasting a meal swipe. Thus, money spent at the grocery store often involves money wasted on an unused swipe. However, as of now, without changing the meal plan system, I think the best way to be fiscally proactive is to not use flex points.