Some of my colleagues were interested to know if there is research regarding where consumers cut back first, second, etc., when times
are hard. This is different than what one OUGHT to cut back in hard
times, for which I find oodles of examples; I was looking for what people
Where Would You Cut Your Household Budget First? (2007) is interesting but flawed, in that it reflects what people saw they would do if there were hard times. But at the time, things seemed rosy.
More useful were Psychology of Bad Times Fueling Consumer Cutbacks (2008) and Consumer Cutbacks: Temporary or Permanent? (2009), which reported on actual hard-times responses.
Also very helpful: Americans Cutting Back on Everyday Expenses to Save Money (Harris poll, 2011).
Addressing the issue from a different angle: 12 Things We Buy in a Bad Economy (TIME - 2011)
But THE treasure trove, if one takes the time to study it, is the Consumer Expenditure Survey from the US Department of Labor, especially the most recent multiyear table (2006-2010 PDF), as well as the ones for previous years, going back to 1981.
Thanks to Alisa Coddington, John Skutnik, Terese Mulkern Terry, and Chantal Walvoord for their wisdom.