Our $15K Wedding In A Royal Palace

Planned in three months, thanks to immigration

Emilienne, microscopy engineer & nicolas, tennis coach

Sum-up of the wedding vibe: Three months to say “I do” in a royal palace on the beach with loved ones from two continents.

Planned budget: $15,000
Actual budget: $15,000
Number of guests: 60
LOCATION: Brighton, England

Where we allocated the most funds:

Coming from two different countries, cultures, and languages, it just felt right to pick a wedding location that felt like home to both of us. And that was our newly adopted hometown, Brighton. This wedding was our big chance to show friends and families what made us fall in love with Brighton, a vibrant English seaside town. We allocated 50 percent of our budget to our venues: the Royal Pavilion, a historical palace in the heart of the city, where we said our vows and then invited our guests to a private after-hours guided tour; and Al Fresco, a family-run seafront restaurant where we held our reception. With Al Fresco’s wrap-around floor-to-ceiling glass windows looking out over the English Channel and doors opening up onto the beach, we could be sure that guests would enjoy the Brighton seafront for the evening, no matter what the English weather might hold in store. And choosing a highly rated restaurant as our venue ensured an amazing meal as well!

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Where we allocated the least funds:

We definitely pinched pennies on the dresses. (Yes, dresses: there were more than one.) I found a used gown, a total dream of a dress, via a local seller advertising online. And while I loved the princess look, I knew I’d need something else to slip into later for a night of dancing. I scoured consignment shops and found a lovely lace party dress that required only minimal modifications. I’m handy with a sewing machine, so I got to work! Combined, I spent about $300 on a pair of absolutely perfect wedding dresses.

We saved a massive amount on flowers thanks to the creative genius of my mother. We visited a couple of florists a few days before the wedding, and then she worked her magic. I got so many compliments on the original bouquet featuring three king protea—my new favorite flower! And the rainbow roses in our centerpieces were a loving shout-out to our very queer-friendly city.

A free pamper party I won became an amazing way to bring together the ladies from my American family and my husband’s French family. The afternoon before the wedding, in between manis and massages, we had fun modeling and swapping “fascinators,” that de rigeur fashion statement for an English wedding. We bonded across generations as we enjoyed adopting this British fashion tradition.

Transportation was a cost we almost entirely eliminated. After our first-look photo shoot, we just called a taxi to get to our ceremony. And after the ceremony, we strolled a mile through the town center and along the seafront to our reception. As we walked through the streets in our wedding attire followed by our photographer and our family entourage, people shouted congrats and compliments, shook our hands, serenaded us, and pulled us into spontaneous dance. We felt like celebrities as we shared our joy with the city en route to our reception.

What was totally worth it:

The venues! For me, a royal palace is a dream venue to say “I do,” and there’s not much that compares to the Royal Pavilion. Built in the early 1800s for Prince Regent George, it’s a bizarre blend of Indian and Chinese-inspired decor with a classically English flare, a testament to English imperialism and royal folly, and a defining feature of our town. Amazingly, it only cost us an extra $150 to arrange for a private after-hours guided tour of the entire palace for all of our guests, so that they could all appreciate the history and beauty of our wedding venue. The tour also gave the photographer an extra moment to take our pictures on the palace grounds without leaving our guests high and dry. We were also thrilled with the choice of our reception venue on the seafront, where the glorious rays of the sunset stretched over my husband and me, and our guests, as the party began. This pairing of venues really let us show off some of the best that our beloved town of Brighton has to offer.

Our photographer was also totally worth it. Thanks to her incredible talent, we have a beautiful set of images through which we can relive the most intimate moments of our wedding day for the rest of our lives. My only regret is that we didn’t hire her for longer!

What was totally not worth it:

When I still had about a month to go, and all the big details were set, instead of just relaxing, I kept on stressing about all the little details like reception decor. Honestly, most people were hardly going to notice a few more fairy lights or extra decorative signs. Heck, on my wedding day, I hardly noticed them myself!

A few things that helped us along the way:

The greatest bit of help was our incredibly supportive group of friends. Two of our friends also had to plan their wedding with only three months notice due to visa restrictions. Being able to bounce ideas off them and receive reassurances was amazing. Google spreadsheets, where we could easily track and share how much we’d spent, how much was left to be spent, and what was left to do, was also a lifeline during the throes of wedding planning.

My best practical advice for my planning self:

Make sure you are going to be comfortable so you can enjoy your day! Whether that means wearing flats—which I can’t recommend highly enough—or having a second dress to really party in. As much as I adored my corseted princess dress, I was much relieved to slip into something less restrictive when it was time to celebrate. Don’t be afraid to think creatively within your budget. When I lost my job and my U.K. visa and we suddenly had to plan our wedding with a shorter timeline and a tighter budget, we thought we had to forget our dream of a big wedding in the Royal Pavilion. Despite considering many other options, we kept coming back to the Royal Pavilion. This venue offers two different ceremony rooms, one that was large enough but over our budget, and one that was smaller than what we needed.

Finally, we took the smaller, more affordable room, and asked our guests who wouldn’t mind to participate in our ceremony via livestream at an upscale bar next-door, with tapas and bubbly on us. Afterward, they were welcomed into the Royal Pavilion with the rest of the party for a private after-hours guided tour of the entire palace. It was a bit unconventional, but we stuck to our budget, had our dream venue, and invited all our dearest friends. We learned to “break the rules” to have the wedding of our dreams.

Favorite thing about the wedding:

There were so many wonderful moments! My favorite part may have been the first dance to “You Make My Dreams Come True” by Hall and Oates. We’d taken some dance lessons, but we were hardly ready to pull off an entire dance. A few minutes before taking the floor, we rallied our families and the DJs and made a plan. Halfway through our song, the DJs sent the cue and our families stormed the floor, ensuring that we could finally let loose, knowing that we were no longer alone in the spotlight. What a fantastically silly start to a very fun evening.

Something Else We’d Like to Share:

Throwing together a wedding in three months was never the plan. But it all got thrown into hyperdrive when I unexpectedly lost my job and the visa that went with it. Faced with the prospect of forcible separation by immigration services, everything changed. We toyed with the idea of a simple courthouse wedding with a big celebration later, when we could afford it, but we both found it heartbreaking to imagine not being surrounded by the most important people in our lives on the day we officially became husband and wife. The challenge: with just three months and $15K, find a way to pull off the wedding of our dreams. (All while I hopped between countries and time zones in search of the perfect job—which I somehow landed one week before our wedding day!) I still marvel at how smoothly everything went.

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