8 Holiday Mistakes That Can Ruin Your Cheer

Ahh, the holidays — those two-sided coins of celebration and resignation, relaxation and maddening stress. How did such a good idea (time off work spent with loved ones exchanging small tokens of our love) become an over-commercialized madhouse? I mean, when we need to take a holiday after our holidays, hasn't something gone terribly wrong? (See also: 25 Ways to Slow Down and Actually Appreciate the Holidays)

If you're anticipating "that most joyous time of year" with a sense of deep foreboding (cue the Jaws theme music), maybe you're doing it wrong. Here are eight common mistakes people make during the holidays.

1. Waiting Until the Last Minute to Begin Shopping

No, no, no! Waiting until the last minute to begin your holiday shopping is like tossing your sanity straight into a woodchipper. Long lines, competition for merchandize, and traffic snarls are just a few of things you'll have to deal with. Instead, start shopping early (like in April), employ new ways to beat holiday shopping stress, and err on the side of simple and thoughtful gifts that won't break the bank.

2. Getting Caught Up in the Moment

The decorations, the music, the mistletoe… and the smell of smoking credit cards? Getting lost in the holiday vibe can bust your budget and leave you feeling Grinch-like for the rest of the year. Though it's easy to get caught up in the moment and overspend, set a budget for gifts and other incidentals during the holidays and stick to it. It'll help you be a little merrier all year round. And if you're still recovering from last year's Christmas splurge or have already maxed out this year, explore smart ways to manage post-holiday credit card debt.

3. Overscheduling

Who doesn't feel pressure to over schedule during the holidays? It seems like everyone is throwing a party, flying in for a weekend, or hosting a dinner. Choose your events wisely and remember that it's okay to politely decline an invitation and opt for an evening that's more Silent Night and less Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree.

4. Missing Out on Quality Time

Choose quality over quantity and avoid the inevitable result of over scheduling — dashing from event to event with very little time to relax and truly enjoy the company of those around you. Instead of viewing the holidays as a blank dance card that you have to fill up, slow down your holidays and look for opportunities to share some quality time with those you hold most dear. Though it might not be the most exciting option, it's quite possibly the most fulfilling.

5. Stiffing the Host or Hostess

No matter what your friends tell you, it's always proper etiquette to bring a small token of appreciation to the host or hostess of a gathering. A small box of chocolates, bottle of wine, pound of premium coffee, or small bouquet of flowers is the perfect way to acknowledge hospitality. Getting it right will get you noticed — especially when first impressions matter or when the event is work-related.

6. Overindulging

Who doesn't loosen their nutritional standards a little bit over the holidays? After all, how many times a year do we have the perfect excuse to act like kids in Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory? But over indulging can really detract from all the other joys of the season and leave you feeling tired, irritable, and downright guilty. Try allowing yourself a single small treat each day during the holidays or build a calorie credit by having smaller meals or working out more.

7. Giving Plastic to Kids

Though giving gift cards is convenient and easy, aren't they really just credit card starter kits for kids? Instead of giving plastic, give kids cash for the holidays or let them choose a gift for themselves online or in the store (within very clear budget parameters, of course).

8. Missing the Meaning

It's easy to approach everything like a task-master — even our holidays. Instead of slowing down and reconnecting with the more fundamental aspects of life, we shop, wrap, cook, clean, decorate… and maybe have a few minutes left over to down a glass of eggnog and drop into bed. This year, try something new: create a more memorable Christmas by simplifying your approach. Choose family over frenzy, time over stuff, and reflection over perfection. You'll not only enjoy the holidays more, you just might start a new tradition.

Besides gifts, we wrap up a lot of emotions and expectations during the holiday season. But maybe it's time to embrace a much more reasonable and joyous philosophy. After all, combating over-commercialization, over-spending, over-scheduling, and over-the-top stress starts with each of us.

What holiday mistakes have you made? How do you avoid stress and keep your holidays happy?

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