If the economic news isn't encouraging Americans to spend, maybe the weather can take up some of the slack. A newly released American Express/Echo Research poll finds 26 percent of respondents saying the summer weather encourages them to "spend more spontaneously."

The incidence of spontaneous spending is higher among respondents classified as "young professionals" (under age 30, college degree, household income of at least $50,000), as 43 percent of this cohort said summertime encourages them to spend more spontaneously.

When consumers spend spontaneously in the summer, where does their money go? Conducted last month, the survey found the catchall category "summer outings" (including trips to a pool, beach or amusement park) atop the list, cited by 63 percent of those who said summer prompts them to spend more spontaneously. Next in the standings was "more dinners out" (cited by 53 percent), followed by "summer wear and accessories" (44 percent), "happy hours with friends" (32 percent), "concerts" (26 percent) and "sporting events" (25 percent).

Don't get the idea from this that consumers en masse have thrown fiscal caution to the wind. The same survey found many respondents focused on reducing or at least stabilizing their debt levels, and few plan to spend more overall in the near future. Just 15 percent of respondents said they expect to spend more in the next six months than they did in the past six months, vs. 39 percent expecting to spend less. (Most of the rest said they expect their spending level to remain as is.) Even among respondents with household income of $100,000-plus, "spend less" easily outpointed "spend more" (32 percent vs. 17 percent).

The general disinclination to boost one's expenditures is consistent with a widespread intention to get personal debt under control. Thirty-eight percent of respondents said they have reduced their debt load during the past six months, far outnumbering the 16 percent who've taken on more debt.

One good thing about cautious spending, from the consumer's point of view, is that it tends to forestall impulse purchases that are later regretted. Just 9 percent of the survey's respondents said they've "made a specific purchase in 2010 that you regret."

Among the relatively few respondents who are suffering such buyer's remorse, 29 percent said it's due to the purchase of something in the electronics category. Twenty-two percent of those with regrets mentioned apparel/accessories and 16 percent home furniture. Other categories scoring in double digits were automotive (15 percent), travel (14 percent), jewelry (13 percent) and home improvements (11 percent).