This Christmas, the Herald is profiling 12 charities chosen to get a $12,000 grant from Auckland Airport as part of its 12 Days of Christmas giving programme – now in its twelfth year. The $144,000 comes from generous travellers who donate money in globes throughout the airport.

Philomena O'Donnell talks about how she got a budget together with a caring group

"I'd been a long-haul single mum and was at a pretty low ebb the day I walked into the Winz office at Papakura to ask for a food grant. The cupboards and fridge were empty yet again and the next benefit payment wasn't due for eight days. But I had three kids to feed, so as a dedicated mum one sucks up one's pride and gets on with it.

I was declined a grant in line with the benefit reforms of the time and told to see an advisor from the Papakura Budgeting Service.

It was a week before I could get an appointment with Monique. I still remember her name. I'm quite an organised person; every year I'd write up all my expenses which I later learned is called an annual forecast. It's a helpful tool for knowing precisely how broke one is.

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Using my information, Monique was able to quickly put together a budget that could be used support my application on the grounds of genuine hardship. What set Monique apart was she prioritised the essential needs of our family like rent, power, food and medical costs. She said, "At PBS we take care of the family first - everything else is negotiable." I felt a big weight lifted. I was still in the same predicament, but she was on my side.

I had a significant amount of debt because at the time landlords were selling properties before the ink had dried on the tenancy agreement. Despite being an A grade tenant, I always paid my rent and scrubbed-up the homes, I was having to move constantly - four times in five years. Each time, there'd be move-in costs of several thousand dollars and move-out costs of $500 to $1,000. It was a hugely insecure decade.

Papakura budgeting service advisor Philomena O'Donnell. Photo / Ollie Dale
Papakura budgeting service advisor Philomena O'Donnell. Photo / Ollie Dale

Papakura Budgeting Service helped me turn what felt like the headlight of an oncoming train into a light at the end of the tunnel. These people know their stuff. They also have a welcoming approach that encourages clients to bring what they know to the table and participate in the solutions.

After I got through that crisis, a four-month process, I decided to continue with Papakura Budgeting Service and was handed over to Dorothy. She was just like your favourite aunty – almost huggable. You felt that you were with a loved relative who happened to have these groovy skills. "Philomena," she used to say to me, "We have to devise a cunning plan!"

One day, out of the blue, she called me into a meeting with the managers Denise Smith and Rob Mitchell, who said, "We think that you have what it takes to be a really good budgeting advisor and we're willing to pay for you to do the introductory course."

I was absolutely delighted and taken aback at the same time because I didn't see myself as having a lot of skills. I cried because no-one had said that to me for a long, long time. So I accepted, passed the course with flying colours and was able to honour their investment in me over the five years I worked at PBS as a volunteer budgeting advisor and financial mentor.

If I was to give some encouragement to people it would be: don't be afraid to look at your bank statements because these can be your best friend and a vital source of truth to guide good decisions about your income and spending. And if you need to see a Budgeter, feel comfortable about that because they're like your favourite aunty."

Papakura Budgeting Service is one of 12 charities to receive $12,000 each as part of Auckland Airport's 12 Days of Christmas initiative. The grant will help PBS provide a free life skills programme, Money Mates, to new students at Skills Update, Takanini.

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Auckland Airport's general manager of corporate services Mary-Liz Tuck says, "As a successful New Zealand organisation, we have a responsibility to be good stewards of our resources. Financial literacy can really help set people up for a better future as it instils motivation and confidence to make sound money decisions in a variety of situations."

Yesterday: Native Bird Rescue