Where Americans will (and won't) cut back

Even in tough times, consumers demonstrate a reluctance to give up everyday indulgences.

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By Jessica Dickler, CNNMoney.com staff writer

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NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Consumer confidence is in the gutter, inflation is on the rise and the economy is struggling. But even as consumers cut back on spending, there are some things they refuse to give up.

Nine out of 10 Americans said they are cutting back expenses or discretionary spending at least somewhat because of the current economic conditions; according to a recent study from market research firm GfK Roper Consulting.

Only 11% of Americans believed it was a good time to buy things they want or need, down from 16% a year earlier.

Concerns about inflation, U.S. dependence on oil and rising unemployment spanned all income groups and age brackets, according to Jon Berry, vice president of GfK Roper Consulting.

Of course, some are harder hit than others. Because of the heavy dependence on driving, less affluent consumers living in rural areas and parents with children under the age of 18 living at home were among the most impacted from high gas prices, the report said.

Generation X, defined here as Americans between 28 and 43 years old, are also getting especially pinched. They are particularly vulnerable because they are more likely to have young children, recently purchased a home or are in the market for one, and fall mostly within the middle class.

But while consumers across the board are cutting back, they're not cutting back across the board.

Consumers cut back, but not entirely

Consumers are finding ways to maintain their quality of life, Berry explained. Even in a time of belt-tightening, Americans are demonstrating a strong "reluctance to give up on everyday pleasures," he said.

But still, many are forced to prioritize and scale back spending somewhere in their lives. "There are clear priorities with dining out, out-of-the-home entertainment, clothes, vacations and buying lunch the first to be cut," Berry said.

But that doesn't mean there's no fun to be had. Many Americans are leaving the car in the garage and staying on their living room couch. A whopping 50% of Americans plan to buy an HD or flat-panel TV in the next year, the study showed, with little difference between those who are hardest hit by the downturn and those who are not. Cable and satellite TV subscriptions are also way down the list on cutbacks.

Despite the expense, another thing consumers refuse to give up altogether is vacationing and travel.

Even in these tough times, 59% of Americans plan to take a trip of 100 or more miles in the next six months - only slightly below the 61% average of recent years.

But that doesn't mean they haven't changed their plans. To grapple with the rising cost of fuel, many consumers are opting for trips closer to home. This year, they may be packing up for Epcot instead of Europe.

To combat the rising cost of food, consumers across all income groups are hunting down coupons to keep buying the items that they want, at a price they can afford. And they may be eating out less, but they are investing more in growing their own greens and dining well at home. Gardening is having a banner year, Berry said.

GfK Roper Consulting's results were from multiple surveys conducted between Dec. 2007 and June 2008 and based on a total of 20,000 interviews with consumers aged 18 and older.

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