UPDATE: THIS ARTICLE HAS BEEN REPLACED WITH A NEW VERSION CALLED THE MACINSIDERS GUIDE TO MEAL PLANS
READ IT HERE: http://www.macinsiders.com/showthrea...7.html?t=93007
*UPDATED FOR 2013/14*
By GREGORY DARKEFF, INSIDER AGENT
If you decide to stay in residence, one question that always brings about confusion is which Meal Plan Size to select. There are quite a few options (even more if you live in Keyes or Bates) to choose from and McMaster's brief guidelines to help you choose one that's appropriate for you don't actually help all that much.
Let's start by looking over all the choices you have to select from:
MEAL PLAN COSTS FOR 2013-14
Group A Full Meal Plan (Available to all residence students)
Group B Reduced Meal Plan (Available to Bates and Mary E. Keyes Residence students only)
First set (Group-A) are the meal plans that you can choose from if you live in any residence other than
Mary Keyes or Bates.
The second set (Group-B) of options (in addition to the first set) are available to students who are living in Mary Keyes or Bates.
Before we dive any deeper, I'll explain what the difference between BASIC, FLEX, and FREEDOM accounts are:
BASIC is what you use when you purchase food on campus. It also avoids the tax on any food purchases you make which is a big bonus.
FLEX is the account you would use to purchase food on campus after your BASIC account is emptied out. FLEX allows you to also avoid tax.
FREEDOM is the account that lets you use part of your meal plan outside of campus at places such as Boston Pizza. You can also use FREEDOM to buy food from campus. However, you have to pay taxes when you use your FREEDOM account. You can freely transfer between your FLEX and FREEDOM account though, so if you are planning on buying more food from campus after you exhaust your BASIC account, make sure to transfer some money from FREEDOM to FLEX in order to continue not paying taxes.
Ultimately, there isn't a penalty to choosing a larger/smaller meal plan to purchase, because only the BASIC account is non-refundable. Since all the BASIC account amounts are equal among all the meal plans, you would always have to eat the same minimum amount regardless of what you choose to get your money's worth.
That being said, it's much less of a hassle to correctly choose your account to begin with, rather than having to add money to it through the year or having to collect the money you didn't spend out of your FREEDOM account at the end.
I've chosen the REGULAR Group-A (For people not living in Keyes/Bates) for both the years I've stayed in Residence. I'm a pretty heavy eater, but I also went home on most weekends. Both years, I depleted the last of my money on the very last day of exams, so I neither had to add money nor collect money at the end. You should use this to base what meal plan would be right for you. If you are a heavy eater and plan to stay on weekends, I'd recommend up-sizing to the LARGE or X-LARGE meal plans, because you would run out of money using the REGULAR. On the other hand, if you are more of a light eater who stays on weekends, the REGULAR might be perfect for you.
If you happen to be living in Keyes or Bates, you have an extra decision to make. Since you have access to a kitchen area right in your Suite/Apartment, you are allowed to select a smaller meal plan because McMaster realizes you may want to cook your own meals. Cooking your own meals is a VERY good way to save money, as food on campus is generally more expensive than cooking yourself. However, you have to decide whether you will actually want to cook a lot or if you feel like you'll be lazy and want to eat campus food most of the time. This will impact whether you opt for a smaller Group-B meal plan, or instead decide to go with a Group-A plan.
Now that you have chosen your meal plan size, there is the important aspect of budgeting your money on purchases. Most of the food you will find on campus is expensive and as a result will start to deplete your meal plan quickly. The most notorious items that do this are snacks and drinks. You might be able to get a case of Coke for $3.99 at home, but once you come to campus, you're paying in the neighbourhood of $2 PER drink. Without even realizing it, by continuously buying drinks, you will very quickly end up broke. Snacks are no better. Bags of chips can be purchased for $1-2 at home depending on the brand, but once you step on campus, expect $4-5. There is a very giant markup on these items at campus, and if you want to get the most value out of your money, I would recommend not buying them from campus ever.
The trick to all this is to buy Snack and Drinks at home where you can get them much cheaper at places like Sam's Club, Walmart, Costco, or Bulk Barn. By avoiding to make overpriced purchases like these on campus, you greatly decrease the rate at which you will deplete your meal plan. You will be able to stretch it for much longer than you would have by buying these items from campus. It might seem silly to have to buy food at home to bring to school, but you'll definitely be happy when you realize it's saving you a couple hundred dollars (if not more) over the course of the year.
I hope reading this was helpful and that you learned that you can save a lot of money by not purchasing certain overpriced items from campus!
For more information on meal plans visit our web page at http://hospitality.mcmaster. ca/
or contact Mac Express, Commons Building , Room 128, telephone (905) 525 9140, ext. 27448, email [email protected]
For information regarding applying to residence visit the Housing web page at http://housing.mcmaster.ca/
or contact Residence Admissions, Commons Building, Room 101, telephone (905) 525 9140, ext. 24342, email [email protected]
For the Off Campus meal plan option, click here
READ MORE ARTICLES WITH TIPS ON MEAL PLANS HERE.