“Mom! I need a new computer,” my son (16) lamented when his new game would not run on the under-powered machine he hauls to school. I didn't bite.

I can postpone this purchase for a while. Right now, I figure, if he needs a state-of-the-art computer for gaming, he also needs a job and a way to pay for it. But that computer is on its last legs. When he goes to college next year (if all goes well), he will need a new computer. Not a gaming computer -- that wouldn't help his grades -- but a good machine for school. He will also need tuition money, gas money, and a lot of other things. It’s a lot for a parent to fund.

So I’m thrilled with a new idea that came out of Microsoft recently: The ChipIn program. Microsoft set  the site up to help college-bound kids crowdsource the purchase of a new computer. With it, he will be able to direct the goodwill and offers of help from family toward a good computer at a good price. Microsoft has already contributed 10% toward the purchase price. And whatever computer he chooses will come with Office 365 University already installed. (That’s a four-year subscription to Microsoft Office for college students that would otherwise cost another $80.)

Here’s how it works: He logs on, picks the computer he wants from the selected-by-Microsoft-for-school-and-already-discounted list, and creates a profile with the name of his college and graduation date. Then he can just click to share his choice with his social network via Facebook, Twitter, or email. His grandmother, uncle, aunts, and even friends, can log on to give whatever they like from any internet connection. ChipIn keeps track of all the contributions. When it has enough to pay for the computer, it will ship it to him.

I do nothing, which will give him ownership over the process and help my budget. And family members don’t have to worry that if they send him cash, he’ll spend it on a tattoo, a road trip with friends, or fast food. They’ll know it went to something he needs for school. Relief, all around.

Christina Tynan-Wood writes the Family Tech column for Family Circle, and is the author of “How to Be a Geek Goddess.” You can find her at GeekGirlfriends.com.

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