Roaccutane: Early Days

So I've talked a lot here about the variety of skin care undertakings that have defined my year. I've trialled all different cleansers, exfoliators, toners, topical treatments, vitamin C, masques and oils. It's been fun. My forehead has smoothed out to that of an 18 year old (okay…a stressed 18 year old, but it's better than the 40-year-old vibes I was getting at the end of 2016). My skin looks much brighter and is softer to touch.

But I could not move the angry red marks on my cheeks. No matter how patient I was, they refused to budge. I over and under exfoliated. I moisturised. I tried gentle cleansers. I switched birth control methods. Then I cracked the shits, got a referral to a dermatologist and, after a bit of fussing around, began the confusingly controversial acne wonder drug, roaccutane.

Roaccutane is basically a big fat dose of vitamin A, that you take orally by tablet. You may recall I tried the topical treatment Differin, which is a retinoid (or vitamin A derivative) a while ago, unfortunately to minimal effect. Roaccutane (also known as accutane), works from the inside to shrink your pores and effectively cure you of acne (this description is definitely woefully inadequate, so I'd give it a Google if you'd like a more comprehensive / accurate summary of the work it does).

When I was younger, I remember a few people (my brother included) going on it, and the litany of scary side effects: depression and suicidal tendencies; not being able to even look at alcohol for fear your liver would curl up and die; severe sun burn; thoroughly dried out skin (think shrivelled up like a sultana); painfully dry lips; and not being allowed to fall pregnant, admittedly not as much of a fear when I was younger. Turns out the main, legitimate, side effects are dry lips and an absolute kibosh on falling pregnant, as vitamin A causes severe deformities to unborn foetuses.

The main things I was warned about was to take care in the sun (particularly living in Western Australia, renowned for its particularly burny sun, and also my painfully pale skin), mitigate the guaranteed dry lips by regular chap stick application, and, as said above, adopt two forms of birth control because pregnancy is a big no. Otherwise, alcohol is fine, just not to excess all the time (although the occasional drunk night is fine), and I would need to have a blood test prior to starting the drug, and before my six week check up.

I was prescribed a 20mg dose once a day for 60 days (leading up to my next appointment), equating to one tablet to be take with food a day. While waiting for the results of my blood test to begin taking the drug, I spent many hours looking at before and after photos, and looking for blogs where people shared their roaccutane experiences. Of course, most were over dramatic. I read posts of people who claimed they were so dry they moisturised their entire body ten times a day, or felt deeply depressed. Some people said they stayed on the drug for years. Some people said they had hangovers for days. On a straw poll of the many friends I have who have taken it in recent years to farewell adult acne, the worst side effect was dry lips and, for some, a sweatier face when exercising.

I've now been on the drug for 2.5 weeks. In the interests of honesty, I'll share my 'progress' in the form of extraordinarily unflattering photos.

Pre-Roaccutane:

All I felt was embarrassed. Big red marks and bumps all over my face.

Week One:


At the end of week one, I'd experienced dry lips (although not as bad as I thought they'd be) and a noticeably dry mouth when I woke up in the morning. Otherwise, generally fine and no emotional swings, no noticeably dry skin anywhere but my lips and thanks to it being winter and me applying sunscreen, no issues with sunburn.

Week Two:


At the end of week two, my lips continued to be slightly dry, and I had the occasional dry mouth. Again… that's pretty much it. As you can see, not much has changed at this stage. I feel as though the acne is getting slightly worse (which I was warned about prior to commencing treatment – minimal to no change in the first six weeks, with a high likelihood of things worsening a little as the drug begins to take effect from the inside out.

I've pared back my skincare routine, as many people warned me your skin gets very sensitive while taking roaccutane. I'm now using a gentle milk cleanser in the morning, followed by serozinc, hydroluron and miscellaneous moisturisers, before slathering on the sunscreen. Evenings, I double cleanse with Clinique Take the Day Off and another milk cleanser, followed by serozinc, hydroluron, moisturiser. Sometimes I'll use an oil because I just love face oils – but generally, this is all my skin has wanted. And during the day, as some of the red cystic acne had come to a head, I will use a little of the Aesop control gel to try cool them out.

I miss using Vitamin C, but I'm holding off to see how my skin goes. I've gifted on some of my fancier products so they get used instead of expiring in my cupboard. But generally – that's all I do!

I'll keep you updated on progress. It's a slow burn, and generally a six month treatment, but I'm feeling confident this is the right choice for me.

30 June 2017

This date feels so monumentally significant to me today, and yet, as always, somehow mundane. In a total chaotic flurry that happened in the blink of an eye but was filled with more weight and people than I could have imagined, the first half of 2017 is behind us. In it is the full spectrum of wins, whims and woes that make up a life. Early alarms, overflowing baskets of washing. Rent inspections. Long, rambling complaints about work. Sunshine and plants. Beautiful friends. Performance reviews. Boozey lunches. Boxing, exercise and more and more and MORE exercise. Meal prepping and Instagram and self doubt. So much self doubt! And somehow, healthy doses of self love. All seasons of all shows on Netflix. Tearful airport goodbyes and long and frustrating calls on every medium offered by a smartphone. Yarn everywhere I look, sometimes turning into something beautiful, and sometimes entangling itself into webs of anxiety. Work idols. Wedding expos. Charity balls and Friday night drinks in windowless rooms, laughing and complaining and sharing and eye rolling. Friday nights on the couch. Learning to paint. Hours on eBay and hundreds of packages. 

In six months, we have a wedding. In many ways I can’t comprehend that reality; and importantly, it is one very large but only one aspect of who I am and what this year is about. 

The goal for the next six months is to continue to build into the kind of person I always wanted to be.  Inner confidence reflected in outer humility. Healthy dose of self discipline with a sprinkling of flexibility. Outward-focussed and committed to others. Follows through. And meditative. 

I’m very fascinated by the picture I have of the kind of person I want to be. She’s the girl I see from the corner of the room, who I desperately want to be friends with. She’s fun and interesting and different, she has strong personal style and looks fit and strong and confident. She gives to others without being submissive and champions them and their achievements. She is kind, but in the non-submissive way. My goal, in the next 6 months, is to build up the courage to meet her. 

Birthday…

I have always been a birthday fanatic. I love the presents and the fanfare and the celebration and the singing and getting to eat your favourite cake. 

And joy of joys, my birthday is tomorrow! The celebration of the end of my 27th year on earth and the start of my 28th. Typically this is the night I begin my exceedingly lengthy list of goals set for the upcoming year, spanning all facets of life from personal to financial to career to fitness. 

But this year, I just can’t do it. This upcoming 28th year on earth is stuffed just about full of every conceivably life-fulfilling thing – marriage, physical distance, moving countries, changing careers, buying a home. I can’t possibly mentally squeeze anything else in. In writing this all down, I realise that there is only one goal: calm. 

I have been blessed with practically every wonderful thing in life, but struggle to maintain a sense of balance and perspective. And so, this year, in amongst every fabulous life high and fear-inducing risk that awaits, I commit to holding on to calm. Equanimity. Balance. With a healthy side dose of balloons.

Point Redemption / Freebie Round-Up

One of my favourite things in the whole world is a good old bargain. I love walking away having purchased an item that has been discounted, preferably twice, and heavily. I love collecting points – it would be fair to say that I dedicate well over 70% of my wallet real estate to all loyalty cards I can get my hands on. I’m a sucker for a free gift with purchase. And I especially love layering up points, freebies and discounts to maximise each dollar I spend.

I’ve written before about my point-collecting obsession, and how it has paid off in flight to Melbourne to visit my childhood bestie and maid-of-honour, as well as four upgrades on a mega-haul return flight to the United States. Of course, I don’t limit my point-collecting to Qantas (although a more comfortable flight experience is what dreams are made of). My primary sources of point-collecting options extends to Flybuys, the MyerOne program, the Priceline Sisterhood and Swagbucks. It doesn’t stop there – I am often sourcing coffee shop loyalty cards (although only when I’m buying coffee, which has currently been cut to once a week #weddingbudget) and checking out what freebies I can get through my health fund.

It’s been a particularly successful few months in my magpie-tendency to collect shiny points and turn them in to benefits, and I thought it was high time I did a round up! Note that earning points is only a benefit if you are buying the things or spending the money anyway. Buying things merely for the sake of earning points (unless it’s a judicious choice – see more below) is a great way to let the big bad corporates win. But on to happier things – like free stuff!

Flybuys Cash-In

Alongside my Qantas point habit, I’ve been extremely dedicated to beefing up my Flybuys account. To do so, I’ve made a point of using the hard copy vouchers that are mailed to you each quarter (although I always go through the self-serve check out when I use them because for some reason, I feel slightly ashamed), which typically get you bonus points – either a 1000 point bonus or triple point bonus on your total shop, with individual bonuses for particular product purchases. I’ve also jumped on board checking the Flybuys website about once a week. By logging in, you are given plenty of online bonus offers.

This month, the Flybuys points total added up to 10,000 points, which I cashed in for a $50 Coles voucher. This kept my groceries to an even $0 for the week (hooray!). My new goal is to collect enough Flybuys points to convert into Coles vouchers to make our annual Thanksgiving extravaganza dinner free. So I am secretly regretting spending the $50 voucher already, but hey – free money is free money no matter when you spend it.

Thanks to religiously checking the Flybuys website, I have amassed 4000 points in the last three weeks. This is mainly due to buying a $30 Dymocks voucher, which generated a 2000 point bonus. Of course, this appears to break my cardinal rule of not spending purely for the sake of points; however, first, 2000 points is equivalent to $10 in a Coles voucher, so the Dymocks voucher has an actual value of $20. Second, with all the birthday events coming up over the next few months, I will benefit from being organised and being rewarded for my spend (since I often buy people books for their birthday anyway). Extra bonus, I have a Dymocks loyalty voucher (are you surprised?) so I can collect points on whatever I purchase with this Dymocks voucher, which can go towards a future book purchase.

So, pro-tip: check out the Flybuys store relatively regularly, and make sure you activate the offers that work for you and suit your spending. The points will add up fast!

Priceline Sisterhood Points Redemption

This particular redemption was quite a nice surprise! The Priceline Sisterhood membership used to be a real pain – I was never able to find my card, and there was no way to look up a member online, or collect the points by calling in later with your receipt (yes, I actually do that). It’s significantly improved in recent months, particularly since you no longer have to wait for any hard copy reward to be mailed to you – they tell you right at the counter when you scan your card whether you have points to redeem! Thanks to my skincare rehaul, I’ve been making a few trips to Priceline over the last five months. It has been worth every cent, as  my skin is clearer and more hydrated than it has ever been. Plus, when I recently went back to buy a new tube of Hydroluron ($35 / tube), I was informed at the counter I had $22.46 I could redeem against my purchase. Best surprise ever!

While I do love Priceline, I am focussing more of my non-high end beauty spend at Coles now, to concentrate my point-collecting to Flybuys. However, there are still products that are only available at Priceline, so I’ll continue to scan my card when I go – just not as frequently as I have been.

MyerOne

MyerOne is just so ubiquitous. I literally don’t know a soul who doesn’t have a MyerOne card. Weirdly, I wouldn’t say I spend a huge amount at Myer, but the points had obviously added up and I had a $20 voucher arrive in the mail. I am hoarding this one until my Clinique Take the Day Off runs out. I absolutely love this product, so will always repurchase, but at a cool $50 a pop, any discount never goes astray. I also am not loyal in my purchasing location for Clinique – it is available across many online stores, as well as at big department stores, and typically has the same price tag, give or take a few dollars which is mitigated by shipping costs. As a result, I just purchase at whatever location rewards me best at the time I’m restocking – for a great example, see my next item!

David Jones Clinique Freebie

I don’t typically shop at David Jones – primarily because I don’t think I’m classy enough (yep). However, I also hate that they don’t have a loyalty program separate from having a store credit card. But, I had been hanging out to purchase the Clinique Extra Moisture Thirst Surge moisturiser, ever since my friend gifted me a sample a few months ago, but didn’t want to part with the $60 for a tub for nothing. Fate shined down on me, and David Jones was running a promotion where if you spent $60, you got a free nine-piece cosmetic bag of samples, which conveniently included a sample of the moisturiser, and the hydrating masque I had hoped to try at some point. Of course, I didn’t stop at the free sample bag – I also requested some samples of one of the cleansers I wanted to try.

Entertainment Book & Crown Towers

The Entertainment Book is, in my humble opinion, an absolute must buy. It offers a tonne of discounts across a variety of services, including retail and travel. This month, I was particularly enamoured with both spending our wedding night at Crown Towers, as well as getting ready for the wedding at the hotel with my maid of honour and mum. Booking through the Entertainment Book got the total price for two nights down by over $150.

Kikki.K Voucher

This one isn’t strictly a points-collecting scheme, but it does show the power of the consumer, and the importance of asking! I received a beautiful leather Kikki.K handbag for my birthday last year. While the bag itself remains in amazing condition, the colour leather on the handles has completely worn away – and this had happened within the first three months of getting the bag. Initially I didn’t do anything at all about it, but it was really starting to bother me that the body of the bag was beautiful, but the overall look was completely undermined when I put the bag down as the handles are so gross. I am a (scarily loyal) Kikki.K customer, and always have my membership noted when I purchase. Annoyingly, you don’t collect points, but I have received a lot of extra freebies for my insistence on spending all my money there, so you know, it probably all comes out in the wash. I contacted the customer service line, explained what had happened, and as the bag is no longer available and no replacement could be provided, I was given a  $70 Kikki.K voucher to compensate. I’m pretty thrilled, since I had been eyeing off a new travel wallet (mine has endured 7 years of exchange, long-distance relationships and general travel obsession and is literally threadbare), but couldn’t justify the cost – typically around $70! Of course, I’ll be waiting until the travel wallets go on sale, since this is far from an urgent purchase, to maximise the value of my bonus $70. But there you have it – ask, and ye is much more likely to receive.

So there you have it! A pretty decent haul, adding up to around $312 in value + a free cosmetic bag with samples. Everything I spent to gain these rewards I had planned for, or fits within my financial rules for the rest of the year.

Oh! And I forgot – I also redeemed two free coffees with some loyalty cards I’d hoarded in my wallet, which was a nice top off to a successful few months.

Like anything, incurring these rewards takes a bit of thought, planning and research. Of course, you can just scan your cards as and when you remember, and the points will eventually add up, and that’s great! But if you’re willing to put in the time, you can really make these programs work for you.

How to pick your wedding colours

In some ways, I can’t even believe I’m writing this post. I had this great idea in my mind that I was going to be this super breezy, chill bride, who just casually throws together a few neat elements and BOOM, instagram-worthy wedding without even trying. In reality, those instagram-styled weddings you see covering the internet involve significant planning, thinking, and creating, to get to the final product – much like any stunning photo, there is work behind it.

As I was trying to pull together the threads of my wedding, particularly, trying to get everything booked in and deposits paid (which means the nitty gritty can be decided on later), I was having a constant low-level panic about what the heck I actually wanted my wedding to look like. I sent my very patient maid of honour a panic email (I know that typically the groom would have to suffer, sorry, help with this part, but my sneaky groom is off in the USA for 6 months, so I’m bearing this heavy burden alone), saying I just had no idea what the heck I wanted! I wanted everything I saw on Pinterest – after all, I only get to be a self-indulgent bride once, and I want my wedding to have all of the trinkets that come with the modern wedding. On the other hand – I wanted the style I saw on Pinterest, not just a panic-strewn room of ill-thought out details, only added so that I didn’t miss out. I wanted cohesion and order, and a real sense of us, while also preserving the desire to have the feeling I had everything I wanted at the wedding (mitigating against FOMO).

That’s when I realised that, despite my original derision, picking wedding colours is a really good idea. Having wedding colours, or a wedding palette, gives you a starting point on which to base everything else. For example, I’m pretty passionate about the glossy white LED dance floors happening at weddings lately, while also loving the soft candle-light and greenery styling, and being besotted with the oversized vintage letters. These are all great things. But if you have all of them, you don’t have a cohesive style, which isn’t a bad thing, but it makes decision-making hard. Not only are weddings dictated by your budget, they are also dictated by your style, and the more decisive you are on both from the beginning, the more fun the rest of the planning.

After my maid of honour patiently wrote back, distilling everything I’d written to her into two clear themes (seriously, the woman is brilliant), I had a better picture of what the options were. And after assessing where I was at the time, I realised I knew exactly what I wanted – which made briefing the florist (and getting a very affordable quote) so much easier. It made picking a dress style so much easier. It made everything so much easier (and also more fun!) because I knew what I wanted now.

Are you as lost as I was? Trying to avoid all bridezilla stereotypes while also trying not to get stuck in a wedding vortex? Just looking for a way to make a darn decision? Then read on my friends, for this is how I discovered my wedding colours.

1. Get a Pinterest account

I know. Maybe you’ve held out for all this time. But I promise you, it will be worth it.

2. Search ‘wedding’ / ‘wedding colours’ / ‘wedding styles’  / ‘party styles’ / bouquets

And then pin the things you find that you like to three boards: Styling Inspiration, Colour Inspiration and Flower Inspiration. If you are wittier than I, feel free to come up with much more interesting titles.

3. Repeat for a few weeks

Just check in whenever you have some down time, and pin a little more.

4. Open up your boards

This is where it happens. You are only pinning things you like, and that stick out to you. Over time, a pattern will develop. And then, when you open your boards, THERE IT IS. Your colour scheme (and, if you’re lucky, your ‘theme’ or ‘style’).

Obviously, this won’t be perfect – sometimes you have a specific taste, other times there’s a vague theme and then, in the middle of it all, you’ve pinned a circus but that circus looked seriously fun. That’s okay. That helps build all the detail around your party. Maybe you have a photo booth. Maybe your wedding takes place inside a circus tent! But the core theme, and the thing around which you base all your billions of wedding elements, will be there, and you will know that you personally created it.

Good luck, brides. Planning a wedding is not for the faint of heart. Although it is so much fun, and in many ways, I’ve never been happier, there is a significant amount of stress-inducing expectation that comes from many external parties, and from yourself. Any time it starts to overwhelm you (including when looking at Pinterest), just take a step back, and remind yourself of what really matters. You get to marry the person you love. You get to have all the other people you love there to celebrate with. And you get presents.

Dusting off (again)

I am exceptionally bad at regular blogging! I have this dream of being the kind of person who writes regularly, and entertainingly, about the little parts of life. A lot has happened since I last wrote. I epically failed my spending challenge, mainly because I tried to cure the sadness that comes with separation with spending and material goods. Surprise: it doesn’t work. I said goodbye to my fiance for the next six months while we trial our next life, and have surprised myself with how quickly I settled back in to a long distance relationship, and at how little has changed.

I’ve been totally hooked on The Good Wife. I did a triathlon! I re-read The Handmaid’s Tale (for the first time since high school…a scary decade ago), and watched the four episodes of the television show in quick succession. I’ve hosted multiple dinner parties, as I work through my cookbook, and kept up my daily journalling project and my daily video project. I have spent time with my darling friends, and I bought tickets to Hamilton the Musical (just purchasing the tickets is a life highlight). I’ve admired the biceps that have come out on display. I did some hard-core wedding planning, and have now booked basically everything that can possibly be booked, and committed the entire inventory of BHLDN to memory. The wedding is now under 8 months away, so I’ve also begun a much more committed #shreddingforthewedding campaign which has involved working out twice a day (doubling up as therapy from the office) and eating vegetarian for dinner, as well as eating fresh and clean foods every day for snacks and not eating chocolate. In a shock twist, I received a free Tim Tam with my Skinceuticals purchase (another eye-wateringly expensive but extraodinarily exciting skincare development…stay tuned), ate it (my first chocolate in ages), and didn’t proceed to binge on any more. I don’t want to get carried away…but I feel as though I may have taken big steps towards breaking a sugar addiction.

My hair is growing, and I have folded a large number of paper cranes (which is simply delightful) for a charity ball. There have been multiple podcasts, the whole season of 13 Reasons Why (and many phone calls breaking it down over and over to work out the flaws and the fabulous of this very unique show). There have been hikes and bike rides, and dedicated skin care self love. There have been loooong phone calls, and the unwelcome return of the Skype call sound; and the unwelcome hello to the even more aggravating facebook messenger call sound.

There’ve been hundreds of cups of tea – rooibos, peppermint and chai on rotation. Fresh ground coffee in the mornings. The high of potential new race goals, and the realisation that sometimes it’s nice to just do things for the sake of it. There’s been budgets…many budgets…so many budgets. Loads of washing, and dirty hair. Consistent morning alarms (successful people wake at 5.30, and so now I wake at 5.30), and compensatory Sunday naps.

And with all of that, the picture of life. It is full of the random moments, the serene and the tears, the restless nights and the streetlights. The joy and the music, and the quiet and the fear. The rising of the sun and the rising of the moon and it happens again and again, but don’t worry, I’m back, and you’ll be stuck with my musings all over again.

Empties Update

In an effort to curb the sheer amount of waste I see around me, I have been on a rampage of using things up: in the kitchen, in the bathroom, at work, (inappropriately) in other people’s lives. This rampage has also been driven by a level of upsettedness at how much I seem to have accumulated in my life that drags me down. I can barely stomach looking in my wardrobe it’s so packed with crap that I can’t deal with.

I wrote a bit about the joy of empties in the past. I’m feeling very smug because I’ve keep the process up, and can share with you the little stash of empties I’ve amassed since I began my focussed attempts at using what I have in lieu of accumulating more.

Hydroluron

You may recall me banging on about this little tube of wonder in my skin overhaul series. This little guy goes for about $33 at Priceline and does wonders for rejuvenating your skin’s hydration levels and plumping out the fine lines that pop up when you aren’t giving your skin some tender loving. This tube lasted me about 2.5 months of twice-daily use. I also accidentally used way too much in the early days, so I’m confident of it’s longevity. It has already been pre-purchased and is a non-negotiable element of my morning skincare regime.

Clinique Take Off the Day Balm 

Although pricier than your standard wiping alcohol makeup remover you can grab off the shelf at Woollies, this melting balm both thoroughly removes your makeup and acts as a healing and cleansing balm on your poor face which has spent the day dealing with the world. This tub lasted me around 3 months. I love that I don’t need to use those little makeup pad wipes to remove my makeup and I love how this product helps me double cleanse in the evenings.

Lancôme night creme

This little tester was picked up in a Sephora purchase. I mainly used it to get it out of my life – and I am glad it is out of my life. A little potent and a little not right for my skin,

Clinique moisture surge 

This little sample was gifted to me by my Wedding Skincare Consultant. It is AMAZING. The product goes on so smoothly and is cooling and hydrating and made my skin feel ready for the day. I’m waiting for the magical money fairy to fly by and let me buy this in full size one day; until then I’m ruthlessly working through some cupboard-hidden moisturisers.

Garnier shampoo & conditioner

Purchased in a moment of panic at Priceline when I walked in and felt like I had to buy something. Perfectly fine but leaves my hair a little flat. Will not repurchase save for Priceline brain-fart situations.

Rexona Travel-Sized Deoderant

These mini purchases breed in my handbags and desk drawers. As with everything else, I’m methodically working my way through them. One down. One thousand to go.

Aesop Face Mask Sample

Aesop gifted me three face mask samples that are promised to reduce acne. I used one last week, and I could feel the impact quite quickly. One down, two to go.

Revlon Foundation

Since my KonMari bathroom purge in 2016, where I discovered I had over 20 liquid foundations of different shapes, sizes and tones hiding in my cupboards, I have been committed to only having one liquid foundation that I studiously use up before purchasing a new one. I’m very happy to say this one is complete. I had already restocked in the form of a Maybelline foundation in the Priceline 40% off cosmetics sale, and am now working my way through this newly preferred brand.

I’m also proud to say I’m getting dangerously close to using up a powder foundation that I’ve had in the cupboard since my university graduation in March 2014. I can see glimmers of the pan, and am dying for the day it is done and used, and I can commit to thoughtful contributions to my makeup collection. In addition to these itemised lists, I’ve also blasted through an entire cake of honey soap that is made in Australia (it was just beautiful), and am now smashing through a bottle of bodywash I received in a subscription box.

Clothing

In other facets of life, I also listed 31 items of clothes on eBay, sold 9, relisted 14 and donated 8. The most shameful thing about this eBay extravaganza is how disgustingly full my cupboard still is, and how not-lighter I feel despite this purge. These are always excellent times for some self-reflection on why you bought the stuff in the first place, and why it no longer brings you joy, then working out how to continue with refining your tastes, your spending, and yourself. I’m going to be doing another cull this coming weekend, which will both give me a cash diet appropriate activity, as well as hopefully increasing the amount of cash I have to spend in this month of poverty.

Generally I’ve felt super inspired after heading down the no-waste internet search spiral and am now constantly looking for ways to incorporate the principles of using what you have. It is a very slow process, but also deeply rewarding.

April Monthly Challenge: Cash crash diet

April has rolled around. I’ve been dreading it for quite some time, but unsurprisingly, all the dread and fret and worry in the world did not stop time passing, and here we are. The month where my fiance and I have put ourselves into the position of doing long-distance again, for four months until I sneak over for a three week holiday. To distract me from this horrible future, I have set myself a financial monthly challenge, inspired by an article I saw bouncing around the internet recently: I’m going to live on $60 a week, also known as the cash crash diet.

Why am I doing this? There are many reasons, as always.

Solo living is expensive

One necessary outcome of my fiance heading to the United States, and me continuing to rent our apartment, is that there is one less Australian stream of income, and 50% more of living costs to cover. I do not intend skipping any rent payments or missing any bills, and unfortunately my trusty and reliable team account contributor will be making the wrong kind of dollars. So, how I arrange my money is going to take some planning and practice, and the main way I see forward is to start with a very tight belt.

Wedding saving!

I may also have mentioned there is a wedding to pay for in December. We have been fortunate to have very generous parents contributing. However, I’ve been dreaming of this wedding of mine for quite some time, and it is not going to be cheap. Every bit of cash I can squirrel away now results in significantly less stress later.

Learning to be content with less

I often spend to solve my problems. I’m feeling sad – I’ll buy myself a treat. I’m feeling stressed – I’ll buy the latest mindfulness or stress-reduction technique. I’m feeling overwhelmed – I’ll buy new stationery to organise my office. I want to be more stylish – I buy new clothes. None of these steps are necessary or important. In fact, they’re expensive, and are a band-aid over the real issues. This month will be packed with challenging scenarios, and I want to push myself and prove to myself that I am capable of dealing with them, while sticking to the bigger picture.

So this is all very nice. But how will I do it?

Withdraw the cash

Every Monday I’ll withdraw $60 from the ATM on the way to work. Then, when I run out of that $60, that’s it, until the next Monday. This will form a visual reminder of how much I’m able to spend.

Define the bounds of the challenge

This $60 is intended to cover all non-essential or non-budgeted spend for the week. Not included in the $60 is my Netflix, Classpass, Headspace and BBG payments, as well as standard spends such as rent and groceries. I’m also allowing myself a haircut.

Included is takeaway coffee, meals out, treats (including those pesky creme eggs that I can’t seem to resist), entertainment, stationery, clothes, shoes, make-up, skincare (the real test, I desperately want to get a face oil but I don’t need it yet), and any other thing that I don’t absolutely require to get me out of bed and to work, and back again.

Make it possible

I’ve set up a basic notebook where I will write down everything I spend. I’ve also written in that notebook all the things I can do when I feel like spending money. The list is so long: go for a walk, catch up on my Project Life scrapbook, catch up on my 365 daily journalling, write my April letter of the day, practice brush script lettering, go visit my dog, go to the gym, go to a Classpass class, do the ironing, find a new recipe for the week, get on top of wedding planning, deep clean the apartment (I’m ashamed of how badly it needs it), declutter and sell items on eBay, go to the library, read my backlog of paperbacks, do a yoga class on youtube, write an article, write a blog post… seriously I couldn’t write fast enough to keep up with my ideas. It was a fresh reminder of the fact that these ideas exist even when I have cash I think I can burn.

So, wish me luck! Have you ever done a cash crash diet? I’d love to know any tips you have to survive!

Wedding Adventures: The First Foray into Finding the Dress

Weddings are made up of so many things – rings, and vows, and family tiffs, and cake, and food, and terrible dance moves, and planning, and tears, and perfect photos, and flowers, and confusing table decorations, and panic, and questioning. But, at least if the movies / the media / the magazines are to be believed, all of this fades in importance in comparison to THE DRESS.

According to every movie I’ve ever watched (and there’s a lot – I watched Bride Wars on repeat to get me through writing my honours thesis), the search for the dress is a magical time where you waltz into a dress store, and, overcome by the white and the tulle and the sparkle, the lace and the beading and the soft gentle smell of calm bride, you casually point to a random dress, try it on with the assistance of experts who tell you how beautiful you are, only to walk down the runway and onto the block, surrounded by mirrors, while your friends subtley blink back tears and tell you what a stunning bride you are. And boom, decision made. You find THE DRESS, and then go about your merry way being a perfect bride.

Well, that’s a big fat lie. I went for my first foray into finding the dress and it sucked. In fact, it was worse than looking for venues. When I finally escaped from the whole nightmare and got home, I’m not ashamed to say that I sobbed into my fiance’s arms for over an hour (okay I am a little ashamed about that, but it happened, and I can’t change it – it doesn’t even include the drive home where I sobbed by myself. Tragic).

The day started off perfectly. We’d had our engagement party the day before, and I was still flying high on the joyful emotion of that day. I was so excited I woke up at 5.30 that morning. I’d made an appointment at one store, and found another that was open on a Sunday, who hadn’t emailed me back, but I assumed was fine. When it was a more humane hour, I picked up my friend to go meet my maid of honour for breakfast and for a debrief, full of excitement and wedding discussion and life planning. It hit 10 and we left to collect my mum, and it was a real girls adventure to the first store (the one with no booking). I was starting to feel a bit nervous, but we had discussed at length the pros and cons of various styles and it all seemed okay.

We arrived, and the store assistant, sitting there doing nothing, informed me that they had a free slot at 12.30 to try dresses on. Since the only appointment I had for the day was at 12.30, that didn’t quite work for us, so we just browsed. Everything was overwhelmingly wrong: tacky material, weird necklines, no train, weird lace. I felt my hopes start to drop, and thankfully we bailed quickly and got ourselves juices and discussed options for an hour until our next appointment. When we walked into the store, I felt myself give up. The store was full of the worst of the worst in wedding gowns. Everything screamed horrible. I felt like I was having a very bridezilla nightmare where I could not bring myself out of the funk of hating every single thing I hung on my poor body (which was suffering a lot of hatred at the time). I stood on that little wooden block, surrounded by mirrors, and wanted to cry. There was definitely no say yes to the dress moments, and I was dying to get home and put the whole experience out of my head.

The world of weddings is dictated by insanely highly expectations thanks to Pinterest, the millions of wedding blogs, and the social expectation of a perfect, slim, calm bride walking down the aisle having effortlessly pulled together a chic look with the trust fund with limitless zeros that funds every brand name candle making up the complex table settings. This first dress experience sent me crashing back to earth again – realising that in fact, weddings happen in the real world. They happen to women with real bodies, and real jobs, real fiances and families, real budgets and real life emotions.

Since that first occasion, I did go on another search – and had one of those magical moments where tears prick the back of your eyes when you stand in the gown. It was so special, and a moment I’ve looked back on through weeks when work sucked and I panicked about the photographer selection. But the dress is one of millions of decisions you make in planning your wedding, and planning your life, and I’ve learned it’s important to constantly remind yourself to go easy on your dreams and hopes and expectations. Just getting to waltz in to a dress store, with your most special family or friends in tow, to mess around with what you’ll wear to celebrate your marriage, is special. The dress..well…if you can guarantee one thing in life, you can be certain that your dress will be out of fashion in a few years anyway.

Frequent Flying and Points Collecting: The Qantas Obsession

Thanks to the previously-mentioned long distance boyfriend (now fiance!), I spent many uni holidays ferrying myself across the world, hopping from Perth-Sydney-LA-Detroit-Ann Arbor-Petoskey-Detroit-New York-Dubai-Perth (amongst other flight variations). Unfortunately, there is just no quick way to get yourself from very remote Perth to very remote Petoskey. I don’t regret a single flight I took (and there were many), but what I do regret is taking until now to start to care about collecting frequent flyer points. I think how much cash I could have saved myself if I capitalised on those points… but that’s neither here nor there. What’s important is now I have developed an absolute obsession with collecting rewards for spending money (on things I am already buying), and particularly how to maximise those rewards to my benefit.

The obsession was triggered after a weekend-er to Melbourne last year, where I remembered to enter my Velocity frequent flyer number. I had also finally remembered to use it on a code-share flight I took when we did an epic Perth/Caribbean/Florida/Washington DC/Trinidad vacation. I checked my letterbox and Velocity had kindly sent me a letter and a card saying I had been upgraded to silver status – and alongside that, I would be getting two guest passes to the Velocity frequent flyer lounge and the ability to earn bonus points per flight. Now that I felt like a special silver-class snowflake, I started to aggressively chase racking up my Velocity points (noting Velocity is the frequent flyer program linked with Virgin Australia), and am excitingly waiting for my next Virgin trip to waltz into the lounge and get a free lunch.

However, I have always maintained a Qantas frequent flyer card, and when American Express released their latest bonus offer with the American Express Ultimate card, I’ve now redirected my interest to Qantas and will secure my focus there for the next little while. For an annual fee of $450, the Amex Ultimate card was offering a potential 102,500 bonus Qantas points plus a return domestic flight between enumerated capital cities.

I agonised over whether this card was worth it. I detest annual fees at the best of times, so a very hefty $450 was very off-putting. I also read every single term and condition, which I highly recommend. This fine print exposed that the 102,500 bonus points would only come about in the following way:

  • 5,000 points on your first spend with Amex
  • 95,000 points if you spend $1,500 in the first three months
  • 2,500 upon your first Qantas spend (being a flight with a QF code, through the Qantas site)

In addition, you only enliven your right to a domestic flight after you have already made a Qantas purchase. Now armed with all those facts, I could make a much more informed decision as to whether this card was right for me.

Importantly, I never accrue debt on my credit card – it is always paid off in full at the due date. So, it is worthwhile finding a way to maximise the rewards I can get from a credit card, since the banks aren’t rubbing their hands together over the interest I’m unnecessarily paying. 

My key consideration was that we are going to be travelling quite a bit this year. I have already made two Qantas flight purchases in March, enlivening access to the domestic flight without having to make an unplanned purchase (as an unplanned purchase is not beating the system). I also had planned to visit my childhood bestie and maid of honour in Melbourne this year, meaning the domestic flight was not just for the sake of it – it really was a savings, in that I would typically spend between $550 – $700 on flights, resulting in a saving of $100 – $250 (since the annual fee of the card is $450).

Finally, there is a tiered point reward system, where you get extra points to the dollar for attending restaurants and booking Qantas flights.

So, with all of that in mind, I applied, got the card, got approved, re-directed all my direct debits and re-allocated my Paypal account’s primary card, and got excited when I saw my points balance tick to 5,000 when I made my first purchase (a $4 cup of coffee), then quickly 107,500 (since I buy everything on credit and pay it back).

With that in mind, I decided to dedicate myself solely to building up my Qantas frequent flyer point balance. I found accounts at Bankwest that allow me to earn Qantas points on a Mastercard and a debit account, so I continued my new-card rampage and signed up for those too. I now know that every cent I spend will be building up to the same unified goal.

And I can confidently say that I have gotten back the value of my annual fee in spades. I have booked a return flight from Perth to Petoskey, composed of the following legs: Perth to Sydney, Sydney to Dallas, Dallas to Chicago, Chicago to Traverse City and then a 90 minute drive home; then Traverse City to Dallas, Dallas to Sydney, Sydney to Perth. All up it is around 30 hours of travel and it is some hard work. First thing is to buy yourself a good set of noise-cancelling headphones (more on that in a future post). Second thing is to cash those points in. 

Using my Qantas points, I’ve upgraded my domestic flights (Perth/Sydney and Sydney/Perth) to business class, giving me priority boarding, priority check in, priority security and lounge access- as well as fancy service and champagne on arrival for the approximate 5 hours in the air. This will be invaluable when I’m kicking around Sydney airport for five hours waiting for my flight back to Perth. 

Cost if I were to have booked this flight with dollars: $4484.

Points: 50,000

Screenshot of search of the Qantas website for the flights on the same dates I am flying is below to back up what appears to be an outrageous claim:


Unfortunately I wasn’t able to upgrade my international flight, but I got the next best thing: a guaranteed exit row seat for my Sydney/Dallas long hauls. I’ve only managed to score myself an exit row without paying once, and it makes an enormous amount of difference to the enjoyability of a 16 hour flight. You don’t need to climb over or be climbed over at various intervals, you don’t have someone lower their chair back while you’re eating, you can stretch your legs out obnoxiously in front of you. You are also conveniently located to bathrooms so you can pick the best times to freshen up. Typically selecting an exit row costs you $180 each way for international flights. 

Cost if I were to have paid for the exit rows: $360

Total points: 45,000

So, I paid $1746 for a return flight to Perth to Traverse City, Michigan, USA on super saver fare. I also used 95,000 Qantas Frequent Flyer points. 

Total dollar value of points used: $4844

Total spent to get card: $450 (annual fee)

Total dollar gainz: $4394

So if that isn’t some proof that the time spent investigating and selecting a credit card with bonus points is worth it, then I don’t know what is.

There are billions of points programs and of course there are many ways to earn frequent flyer points. For Qantas, there’s online shopping through the Qantas store portal, there’s credit cards (like the bundle I have), there’s the Woolworths loyalty scheme, there’s the online booking of selected restaurants which gives you 100 points per person booked to dine, there’s bonus points for particular health insurance funds – and of course, there’s flying on a Qantas or Qantas partner airline. And this is far from a comprehensive list. Of course, you are trading valuable information about yourself, so if you’re concerned about privacy and big data … you know, have a think. But if, like me, you’re unfussed, well, go for your life. It isn’t a huge amount of work for the pay off. Just assess what you want to collect your points for: a flight, an upgrade, something in a particular store (remembering this is the worst or lowest value trade you can make for your points, but if you aren’t planning a trip but need a KitchenAid, well… consider your personal needs). Definitely checkout http://www.pointshacker.com.au for inspiration and advice, as well as recent deals and specials. And happy business class travels!