From big-ticket spending to long-term planning for their futures, American investors are taking a more conservative approach to handling their money, according to industry professionals.

The Investment Company Institute studied American households late last year and found that 75% of respondents with financial investments had continued to save the same or greater amounts compared with three years ago. This was true whether for funds inside or outside retirement accounts. Also, 37% of respondents said they had away from stocks toward bond and money market assets, adopting a more conservative mindset.

The ICI polled 3,000 American households for the study, which it conducted in November and December.

The study also found that more than half of households with retirement accounts or other financial investments indicated they had not changed their investment strategies, the ICI said.

Financial advisors know full well that American investors started taking things a bit slower since the onset of the 2008 downturn, so the results shouldn’t be surprising. Yet Brandt Sakakeeny, the managing partner at Purchase, N.Y.-based Rockingstone Advisors, sees valuable lessons from the ICI study.

“There is more of a commitment to perhaps live a little more conservatively,” Sakakeeny said. “That means not getting a second mortgage to pay for a vacation home. There is a little more prudence and … maybe not stretching.”

As far as investing goes, prudence is replacing abstinence in the minds of investors, evidently.

“There is decent volume coming in around new client interest,” Sakakeeny said. “Given the fact that most folks have a lot of un-deployed cash, when they call and say they are ready to do something … just think it means the visibility is a little better now.”

In other findings, most defined contribution plan participants continued to make regular investments through their 401(k)s, but they also borrowed a little more from them. At the end of September 2010, 18% of defined contribution plan participants had loans outstanding, compared with 16.5% of participants at yearend 2009 and 15.3% at yearend 2008.