I was 11 when I saw Jennifer Lopez catch her stiletto heel on a sewer cover in San Francisco, as a runaway dumpster barrels toward her in “The Wedding Planner.”

Matthew McConaughey rushes her out of the way just in time, and their love story begins.

I grew up obsessed with this movie, and always thought I would have a big, traditional wedding like the ones Lopez’s character plans.

Then I got engaged.

On Aug. 21, 2018, my now-husband, Kyle, and I exchanged vows in a clearing at the edge of a birch forest in Maine, surrounded by only eight guests — immediate family and my grandmothers.

More couples like us are opting to have small, intimate ceremonies, sometimes called “micro weddings,” rather than full-scale events, according to San Francisco wedding planners and wedding planning website the Knot. Some want to save money, while others aspire to splurge on experiences with a guest list under 50. Kyle and I fell into the second camp.

“In my experience, couples don’t choose to have a small wedding to save money or deal with less logistics,” said Kate Siegel, a wedding planner and event designer in San Francisco. She plans a few micro weddings a year, and none of them were described as budget affairs.

They do, however, allow the couple to focus on “being in the moment and prioritize spending the day with the ones they love, rather than the ones they feel obligated to invite,” she added.

My husband and I both come from large families with all the trappings: divorces, estrangements and political divides.

After five years of dating, I didn’t want to spend our wedding day with attentions split between two extended families, never mind families with so much conflict. I asked Kyle about cutting the guest list from 95 to eight. A closet introvert who works in business development at a startup, he was all for having a wedding about the size of a dinner party.

We opted out of the family drama.

But we also freed up funds to do something special with those on the short list.

“These days, couples are making their own traditions when it comes to planning their weddings,” said Ivy Jacobson, senior digital editor of the Knot, who exchanged vows with her husband in front of 12 guests at New York’s City Hall.

Today’s couples feel like they have that ability because they’re often in their late 20s or early 30s and are helping to foot the bill, Jacobson said. On average, couples who share the wedding costs with their parents contribute almost half of the budget, a 2017 study from the Knot found.

My parents had saved for my wedding when I entered college, as my grandfather did for them. I’m the oldest, the only girl.

When Kyle and I told them we wanted a small wedding to spend more time with the people closest to us, at first they were confused. But they understood our reasons, and were happy to spend less than the national average wedding cost of $33,391.

They gave us a budget of $9,750, a number my dad calculated in an Excel spreadsheet after doing his own research. Kyle and I endeavored to stay within budget, slashing essentials like invitations and event programs and adding welcome bags for guests.

We decided to get married on the East Coast to save money, and set a date in late summer. It was just six months later, but choosing a weekday gave us access to vendors whose weekends were already booked for the rest of the year.

Hidden Pond offered an intimate hideaway in Kennebunkport, Maine, a coastal town that my family visited often. Guests stay in oversize cottages nestled into 60 acres of birch forest, and pedal around the resort on beach cruiser bicycles. We reserved the lawn for the ceremony and a private dining room at the on-site farm-to-table restaurant, Earth.

I set out to hire vendors whom I would be friends with under different circumstances.

With large weddings, vendors can “fade into the crowd,” said Emily de Ayora, a wedding planner and managing director of Downey Street Events in San Francisco. She tells clients planning a micro wedding that it’s especially important to hire high-quality vendors they like. “The photographer is going to be one of 20 people … so their personality is going to come forward more as part of the group.”

I crushed on wedding photographer Jamie Mercurio’s style as soon as I skimmed her portfolio website. She captures couples with moody lighting and a documentary flair. Jamie was planning her own untraditional wedding at the time, and we bonded over a desire to skip the drama.

Although she offered us a discounted rate of $2,300 for our scaled-down event, the photography ended up being our biggest wedding expense. Looking back at the photos, I know it was worth the cost.

Over time, the guilt of planning a micro wedding piled up. One uncle said he wouldn’t acknowledge the wedding if his family wasn’t invited. No congratulatory text from him. A childhood friend, who I always said would be my maid of honor someday, called to say she felt hurt. That stung. I still owe her a night out in Boston to celebrate — a compromise we made.

Kyle and I saved thousands by not hiring a band and instead bought wireless speakers on sale. He picked out a navy suit from his closet. My dress — a bridesmaid dress in ivory tulle from Anthropologie’s bridal line — sold for $260. While a two-tiered wedding cake with blue-gray marbling cost nearly as much, my sweet tooth insisted we have it.

We splurged on having hair professionally done for all the women, and flowers everywhere: in my hair, on the cake, on all the men’s lapels and hanging from the arbor where we read our vows, and in groupings of bud vases at dinner.

After saying “I do” and taking photos on the beach, Kyle and I returned for the reception: a family dinner in a private dining shed, steps from the main restaurant.

I sat next to my new husband and across the table from my grandmother, who gave me her wool sweater when the night air cooled.

She lost her husband of 60 years just three days shy of Valentine’s Day last year. The group only felt small without him. But sitting by my grandmother as she smiled and watched us eat chocolate peanut butter wedding cake made me happier than 95 guests ever could.

That, and leftover wedding cake.

Melia Russell is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: melia.russell@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @meliarobin


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