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Los Angeles bride Lex didn’t grown up with any fairy-tale wedding dreams—she always thought she’d end up tying the knot in her backyard with just her family and closest friends. But after sweetheart Mark popped the question and the two dove into planning their nuptials, they soon realized there was a major roadblock to these intimate wedding aspirations: Family count alone was 120 (a full-size wedding in itself). There were three options at that point:

1. Elope
2. Plan a destination wedding (to passively dissuade folks from coming without excluding them)
3. Switch gears, and just go for it. 

Spoiler: They chose the latter option and had a gorgeous black-tie wedding for 191 guests. Looking back, Lex feels only gratitude: "It’s a day we remember with so much joy," she muses. "It felt so effortless and every detail came together beautifully. We may have thought we wanted something more intimate but ultimately it was the perfect representation of us as a couple. And, hey, you only get married once!" Here’s where she splurged—and why it was worth every last penny.

RELATED: How This Bride Pulled Off Her Dreamy Green Mountains Wedding and Stayed On Budget (Well, Just $600 Over)  

VENUE: $48,000

"We explored about 20 (!) venue options, and nothing felt right until we saw the Casa Del Mar hotel. It’s five minutes from our home, yet we’d somehow never been there. The moment we walked in, we both knew it was the place—it’s beachy, but not stuffy. It also held some metaphorical weight since it’s exactly halfway between the cities we grew up in. Long story short: The service was impeccable, the food was perfection, and it was a lifesaver that our guests could stay there, too. It ended up feeling like one big sleepover party. Plus, the idea of us being able to pop in for a drink on our anniversary just makes me happy."

FLOWERS: $7,047

"I may have started planning with a low-key wedding in mind, but flowers were something I never wanted to skimp on. For the ceremony, our chuppah was all about French ethereal garden vibes, and we lined the aisle with low centerpieces in gold-footed vases, then repurposed them on tables during the reception. I opted to keep our floralscape all white with lush green accents—Tibet roses, ranunculus, garden roses, veronicas, seeded eucalyptus, silver eucalyptus and flowy greens." 

EVENT PLANNER: $7,000

"I pride myself on my organizational skills, so when my husband insisted that I hire a wedding planner I was miffed at first. Now, I can’t imagine planning our big day without the help of Tessa Lynn, aka my guiding light. I didn’t really know what I wanted our wedding to look like in the beginning, and Tessa somehow intuited what I’d like before I did. She was highly collaborative and came up with the idea for some of my favorite details of the wedding, like the Champagne scroll escort cards. My mother passed away several months after our engagement, and it was Tessa’s idea to include a Waterford dinner bell I inherited from her into our ceremony as a "Truce Bell." Now, whenever my husband and I get in an argument, we ring that bell and remember the promises we made to each other on our wedding day. Initially, the cost of a planner seemed unnecessary, but her relationships with vendors saved us tons of money, time and stress. I hate to admit it, but my husband was totally right. Truce bell."

PHOTOGRAPHER: $6,000

"One of my stepmom’s major wedding day regrets was asking a family friend to photograph her wedding to my dad (he accidentally lost 90 percent of their photos!), so I knew I wanted to hire a professional. So when we met Jillian, a warm, easygoing and exceptionally talented photographer, we knew we’d found our match. Throughout our sessions, Jillian reminded us to breathe so we didn’t look stiff, made us laugh for perfectly candid snaps and—most importantly—gently suggested we tip our jaws up to avoid having all the double chins. One of my favorite photos was captured after our ceremony: It was magic hour, and she led us out on the sand for a few shots. She asked her assistant to lift my veil right before she took a photo of us kissing, and the effect was breathtaking."

DRESS: $3,700

"After trying on a hundred versions of the same silhouette, I was at a loss. My wedding planner suggested I seek the advice of Hermine Papazian at Saks Fifth Avenue, and she and my step mom pulled this silk J. Mendel bias-cut gown with an a-symmetrical neckline for me. When I tried it on, I just knew it was the dress. It’s classic, but unique, modern but timeless. Thankfully, it was also comfortable and easy to dance in because of the French bustle. The fact that Hermine threw in the $500 alteration cost for free was a major plus. My only regret? I wish I’d worn a bra…and maybe Spanx."

D.J.: $3,110

"We like a wide range of music and really wanted people to dance at our wedding, so a D.J. seemed like a no-brainer. I had initially entertained the idea of hiring a string quartet for the ceremony, but I'm so glad we went with Chris Berry of SoundWave Productions. He had everyone from Mark’s 70-year-old uncle to my 12-year-old cousin dancing the entire reception. Using a D.J. with access to lots of equipment also helped make my dream of having a white circular dance floor come to life, and since he handled everything, it was one less thing to worry about."

PAPER GOODS: $2,200

"I figured we’d go a bit more formal with invites and envisioned wax seals and custom stamps, but the more I thought about it, I realized that guests don’t really care about invitations that much. And as gorgeous as traditional calligraphy is, it’s difficult to read. So I opted for a simple but striking invitation suite from Minted that mimicked the blue shade of our ballroom. It matched our menus, signs and place cards, too, so there was cohesiveness that my type-A personality really appreciated."

RENTALS: $1,832

"Getting married at a hotel meant that we didn’t need to rent all that much. The venue’s sea-toned glasswear happened to perfectly fit in with our color scheme. To make our tablescape pop, we added gold Chivari chairs and gold-rimmed chargers to punctuate the breezy blues of the room."

BRIDAL SUITE: $800

"Another major plus of getting married in a hotel was having a bridal suite on location. It was large enough for all of us—me, my ten bridesmaids and family members—to comfortably get ready in. The morning of our wedding, I took some time to meditate, do yoga and write my husband a letter. Because I had that time to ground myself, I was perfectly relaxed all day and had a home base if I needed to touch up my makeup or take a moment to myself (I’m an introvert). The best part? After consuming approximately 17 glasses of rosé and saying goodbye to everyone, my husband and I popped upstairs and ordered enough room service to feed a small army."

HAIR & MAKEUP: $600

"This cost included three test looks and the actual day-of hair and makeup. I ultimately opted for a sleek ponytail with volume and makeup inspired by Natalie Portman in that Dior Mademoiselle commercial, but two weeks before our wedding date I totally changed my look and decided on a half-up half-down ‘do with waves. And while I’m extremely happy with how it all turned out, I’ll always wonder if I would have been happier with a bridechilla pony. We had three artists for 14 women, and they were early, fast and extremely talented. Having been in weddings where I paid just to end up redoing my own hair and makeup, I was grateful that everyone loved their look and felt confident. It was $75 for hair and makeup each for my bridal party. Sure, the cost was a little steep but, hey, L.A. is expensive."

EXTRAS: $3,000

"Even with our budget, there were some extra costs at the end that we didn’t account for. We ended up paying for an extra night of the hotel suite, and last minute, I treated myself to an additional pair of shoes—a pair of three-inch Chanels that were a little easier to dance in. (I couldn’t resist them!) But the big extra was an overage on food and drinks—the party went until midnight and people were taking advantage of the open bar (ahem, taking shots, smh)."

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