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!

 

Skin Overhaul Part III

If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ll know that in December of 2016, I embarked on a skincare journey, led by my dear high school friend whose skincare knowledge knows no bounds. I shared part one, which involved my first collection of carefully curated skincare products and not ad hoc Priceline purchases, and part two, where we introduced SPF and acid exfoliation.

Things had been cruising along nicely, until I received my next skincare update from the Wedding Skincare Consultant. I was informed I’d been taken as far as one can go on the affordable skincare options – the next step was going to involve shelling out some serious coin. But as we had discussed, the amount you’re willing to spend on a piece of clothing should reflect the amount you’re willing to invest in your face. And I am known to spend an embarrassing amount on a piece of clothing. So there you have it. The foray into the expenny world of skin care began.

Stage Seven: Retinols

This is where skincare became seriously technical. Retinol is the technical term for Vitamin A. It is an extremely effective ingredient for skin transformation – reducing pores, minimising wrinkles, reducing acne scarring and basically turning you into Heidi Klum. It is available in prescription form as retinoic acid (the pure form of the ingredient), or non-prescription (being the retinol, which breaks down into retinoic acid). As I couldn’t be bothered going to a doctor for a prescription, and also the prescription form is significantly stronger, I kicked things off with an off-the-shelf retinol product – the Sunday Riley Luna Sleeping Night Oil. As it goes for a cool $154AUD at Mecca, I began by purchasing the Power Couple duo for a more palatable $114AUD, which includes the Good Genes acid exfoliator, complimenting the skin hero process.

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First thing – how pretty are those bottles?

Now, serious and second thing. This product is considered an excellent introduction to retinols, as it is a relatively low dose, and also incorporates a face oil into my regime, which is more appropriate to use at night than moisturiser. I’ll have to get back to you on why…since I have no idea. But as always, I trust in my WSC, and I put my sleeping night oil to use for the first time last night.

As a result of incorporating these new products, my nightly routine underwent a shake up, and I am now incorporating using Luna and Good Genes, and taking two weeks off the previous acid pads while my skin adjusts. This has been particularly necessary because for no perceptible reason whatsoever, the entire left side of my face had an epic break out (particularly annoying because usually my pimples prefer the right side of my face so now I”m just a well-balanced acne extravaganza). So we’re allowing my skin to slowly adjust to this new reality over the next fortnight, before upping the ante with these new products.

Once we’ve adjusted to the gentler Luna retinol, I’ll be acquiring one of the prescription retinols. I’ll keep you posted.

Step Eight: Spot Treatment

While celebrating my WSC’s birthday, we ended the night with a face-care regime for me (I know, selfish). In the course of a magical pampering session, the Aesop Control gel was applied to my numerous breakouts, and worked wonders in drying them out and minimising their eruptive presence. While handing over my whole pay check for my retinols, I also hit up Aesop and purchased this little wonder ($23AUD at the Perth CBD store), and have been spot applying each time I’m randomly in the bathroom to reduce the breakout party.

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This is a convenient and affordable addition to the skincare arsenal, and I’ve been really happy with it. It is particularly great because it is clear, so I keep it in my handbag at work and reapply at sporadic intervals when I can’t possibly focus for another second.

So here’s to the next fortnight of retinols and upping the ante with the acid exfoliation. I should emphasise that after using retinols or acids, you should always use an SPF the next day – but of course, like me, you’re now in the habit of applying a strong SPF to your face every day before foundation, so that is of no particular concern.

I also wanted to emphasise that despite my very many mentions of the break out situation, my skin has become so much more hydrated and clear with each week of consistently smooshing these products onto my face. I had so many fine lines on my forehead and around my eyes, and thought that must be what happens at 26 – you become a wrinkly old prune and you can’t do anything about it. However, so much of that was purely reversible dehydration and irritation, and I’m so grateful I didn’t sign myself over to giving up and tapping out.

Of course, like any new area of knowledge, delving into skincare is complicated and there is more information out there than a normal person would know what to do with. All I can say is start slow – copy exactly what I have done if you like, and just go month by month in introducing new products. It is a surprisingly rewarding journey, and I also think is a really great chance to practice some productive self-care that will have long-term beneficial effects.