How to Dodge 4 Expensive December Disasters

A poll conducted a few years ago by the American Psychological Association found that 80% of Americans expect to be stressed during the holiday season. While not a shocking statistic, it's pretty depressing that amid what's supposed to be "the most wonderful time of the year," eight out of 10 of us are tearing our hair out.

One source of stress? Those unexpected costs that creep up on us in December.

This year, don't let seasonal slip-ups shatter your spirits -- or your budget. Here's some advice on how to handle common -- and costly -- December disasters, from gift gaffes to pricey travel trip-ups.

The unexpected gift surprise: With money tight, many of us aren't able to give gifts to everyone we'd like to this year. But what do you do when you're lucky recipient of a gift from someone who didn't make your original list? The typical expert advice is to stock a gift closet with extra wrapped presents, but that's a pricey solution, and chances are, the gift-giver won't be fooled anyway. Simply accept the gift graciously and move on. By not reciprocating this year, you reduce the chances (and the cost) of repeating the awkward one-sided swap again next year.

The out-of-stock overpriced item: That must-have toy your daughter simply will die if she doesn't get? Turns out it's backordered and won't arrive before Christmas. Or you don't have the money just yet -- a common problem for many families this year. Now what?

Relax about the holiday deadline and wait until later.

One big benefit to post-holiday gifting? Rock-bottom prices at the after-Christmas sales. And not having the item on the actual gift-giving day needn't dampen anyone's holiday spirits. Simply print out a photo of the item and wrap it beautifully, along with a note that explains when it will arrive, along with something else fun -- and inexpensive -- for the recipient to enjoy in the meantime. For an older child or an adult, try wrapping up some magazines and favorite snacks along with the IOU.

Costly car calamities: Driving long-distance for your festivities? Consider taking the season as a cue to sign up for AAA. Winter weather can wreak havoc on the roads. You could get stuck spending hundreds of dollars on towing, battery jumps, and, if worst comes to worst, hotel rooms. A little planning ahead helps, too -- factoring long delays that don't materialize into your schedule is far less stressful than the reverse. If your travel route is snow-prone, keep the gas tank full, your cell phone charged, and make sure to have extra blankets, food and water along just in case. You'll be better prepared and prevent having to pay extra for supplies on the road.

Expensive air travel agitation: Delayed or cancelled flights. Surprise snowstorms. Take it from someone who once spent Christmas Eve in a dingy Minneapolis hotel (thank you, Northwest Airlines) -- nothing casts a pall over holiday plans quicker than a travel trip-up. To reduce the chances of travel travails, start by programming your airline's customer service number into your phone before you head to the airport. As soon as it's clear there's a problem, you can skip the lines and rebook over the phone. And know your rights -- you don't want to shell out for food or a hotel room if you're entitled to vouchers. (And even if you're not, asking nicely sometimes works.)

Second, pack a few snacks, an empty water bottle, and a toothbrush in your carry-on so you don't have to pay airport prices. If you're traveling with kids, make sure you add a few little treats and a special toy. If you do get stuck somewhere, those few items will make the delay significantly more bearable.

Motley Fool contributor Robyn Gearey does not own shares of the companies mentioned.