There have been times when I've indulged in dining out w/friends much more frequently than I manage to any more. Times when I was in almost as dire a set of financial circumstances, and even times when things were worse that way. (One word: telemarketer.) It was part of not letting money rule my life any more than it had to. I still allow myself movies at the drop of a hat, even though it pretty much means running up debt to do it; it's just worth it to me. I guess we all have our things like that. Yet sometime a few years ago H. & I curtailed the eating out socially, and I certainly haven't reversed the trend.
In Kansas there weren't many nice places to eat out, 'cept when we drove to Larryville. Well, Coco Bolo's was pretty good. And we did eat at the downtown hotel place once, I think, not counting the English Dept banquet. In Georgia we were at Willie's Wee-Nee Wagon or Mack's Bar-B-Q more often than we could reasonably afford, but there was only one really nice place in town. We had a few great meals there, just us all romantic, and when S&E came to town, but we had no friends locally to eat out with. So it wasn't like the Balto/DC restaurant days. I think where I really felt the slow-down was shortly after arriving in Ann Arbor, where we have more restaurants per capita than any other U.S. city of its size, or some such statistic. It wasn't just us, but most folks we were hanging with were necessarily penny pinching, too---prob'bly not just cuz housing is so dear here, but also cuz we're getting older, and you can only be profligate about money for so long before that in itself adds to its ability to rule your days.
Money is going to have a certain amount of power over us, of course. Strategizing to limit how much that power flexes its muscles in everyday living, or how much it SEEMS to be doing so, is a method of living I have done well with from time to time, and one I want to remember to focus on practicing more, again, to whatever extent I can manage.
I do sometimes make myself miserable about certain stuff, or add to my misery with bad habits, but if I get in the groove I can kick into a perspective that limits my feeling financially constrained to a minority of my days. I'm trying to call up & use that skill again by, fer instance, doing things that give you a lotta bang for your (literal) buck---especially the very helpful bang of not feeling, at least not every day, as financially precarious as you actually may be.
You know, things like the occasional leisurely meal at an eatery with a thoughtful, well-executed menu, an appealing atmosphere, and truly fine company.