Guest post by Michelle Willits, CUNA

Second grade: Nintendo DS. Fourth grade: iPod Touch. Sixth grade: Alienware computer. As my son nears the teen years, he has more expensive items on his “big wish” list. He knows our budget can’t handle purchases like that, so he is working to save for it.

After becoming a single mom, I put even more emphasis on sticking to a budget. He’s aware of how much his shoes cost and steers clear of the expensive ones that his classmates have (and outgrow quickly).  He likes to calculate cost per unit for me at the grocery store. He declines my offers to bring home dinner from Subway or McDonald’s, citing the cost. (It’s not the money, sweetie. It’s “Mom is too darn tired to cook tonight so she’s spending the $11.74 for dinner.”)

We talk about how you have to save for the big stuff—he saw me do that when I bought my road bike last year. I took the money previously allocated to craft supplies and redirected it to my bike fund. What’s nice about that? I have an awesome bicycle that gets me out and moving, and I have a lot fewer unused or unnecessary supplies stacking up.

Once he decided he wanted the DS and, later, the iPod, he saved everything. All of his allowance, all of his birthday money, all the “fun money” that his grandparents and aunt sent him. When he got a pre-paid gift card, he “sold” it to me in exchange for cash that he could save.

My 12-year-old’s funds are primarily electronic. Every month, I deposit his allowance into his credit union account. Any money received as a gift, he gives to me to take to the credit union. (I’m lucky—I have a branch on my work campus so it’s convenient for me to make the deposit for him.) I bring back the deposit slip, and he knows where he stands.

Now, my son’s goal is a high-end computer system that can handle graphics-intensive online video games. Pretty much every penny is going toward the computer fund.

Well, almost.

The $2 he earns per week taking out the trash for our elderly neighbor? Generally that goes to buying songs or apps from iTunes. I admit, Mom doesn’t begrudge him when he may want a couple of extra songs. I’m pretty sure my mom covered the cost of a Commodores, Styx or Billy Joel 45 for me on a few occasions.

Even cooler, he is doing research to find out what computer would make the games run better, what keyboard and mouse are compatible, and what speakers have the best sound. He’s investigating the how-to for using his TV as a computer monitor, bringing his overall cost down. He’s determined to get the best computer system for the money he has, and he’s willing to save until he gets there, which looks like mid-August at this point.

I’m just afraid his next savings goal is going to be … a car.

Michelle Willits is manager of new alliances at CUNA Strategic Services in Madison, Wis. She joined Credit Union National Association in 2003 as a web associate editor for News Now. Michelle worked in newspapers in Montana, Illinois, Colorado, and Nevada before moving to Wisconsin. A 1988 graduate of the University of Montana-Missoula, she is involved with the UM Alumni Association House of Delegates and the UM Alumni Band. Her 12-year-old son rocks.