By Amy Xiaoshi DePaola

After I landed my first job in undergrad, my mom’s spending money stopped, but it was a small price to pay for living at home for free. The only time when I missed the steady flow of cash was when I went out with friends.

Like a lot of millennials, we love to eat out. We dedicate hours, and sometimes weeks, to online research, calculating coupons and local deals. Then, a long stretch of carpooling to the destination and taking painstakingly-aesthetic photos before digging in. As much as I love to cook, there’s nothing like sitting down and not having to worry about doing the dishes.

However, there is another worry: the bill.

This summer, my friend, Vivi, was excited to try French cuisine, something we both never had. But we didn’t have much money between us. My campus job ended when school did, as did Vivi’s stipend from her honors science program when she graduated. I had no job, which I saw little point in since I had less than three months to a paid assistantship at graduate school. Vivi volunteered at her local church and community garden, but there was little financial fruit for her labors.

So we considered it serendipitous during a walk in downtown Long Beach when coming across a sign outside a French café: “Happy hour. $5 appetizers each.”

We paused. I had bought a book and Vivi some CDs earlier that day. Neither of us had money to burn, but our stomachs were calling, and we had to go.

Downtown Long Beach is not known for its generous parking, but near the restaurant, we discovered a meter that was already paid for—for about two hours. This was a good omen.

The escargot arrived, six drowning in butter and oil and garlic. I calculated that they were less than a dollar each. We both had no idea how much escargot normally cost, but when we bit into them, soft and tender and savory, it didn’t matter.

But no one can survive on three escargot each, so we looked at the lunch menu, spending a good chunk of time going back and forth on prices. Vivi then shrewdly asked how big the dishes were, and the waiter indicated with his hands the diameter of his waist.

In the time it took to refill our water glasses—always free—and chat a little, the seafood pasta arrived ($16). We split the generous portion, sighing at the white wine sauce and generous portions of salmon and clams, topped with scallions and mushrooms.

Ever the gluttons, we looked at the menu again.

“Dessert?” I offered tentatively.

We decided on a delicately-folded, flambé crepe drenched with lemon-and-orange liqueur and decorated along the edges with whipped cream. It cost seven dollars—but hey, it was lit on fire—not to mention delicious.

All-in-all, when the check was split, one of the most delicious meals I ever had was fourteen dollars. And that made it all the better.

Amy Xiaoshi DePaola is a student at Arizona State University.