After years of working as a corporate trainer for a major financial services company, Marsha Barnes of Charlotte, N.C., wanted to go out on her own. Her goal was to start a financial coaching business, but office space was a dilemma. So she got creative. Barnes bought a school bus on Craigslist for $3,500 and hired an interior designer to create comfy work stations where Barnes could consult with people on their finances. Thus, The Finance Bar was born in November 2014.
Barnes self-funded the venture, spending upwards of $20,000 on renovations alone. Eventually, Barnes’ new venture got non-profit status.
The Finance Bar has a menu from which people can order such financial services as creating a savings plan, how to pay off debt, info on credit reports and how to boost up their credit score. Barnes also offers group workshops and seminars and a virtual members club for $10 per month.
The bus travels to colleges, organizations, and homeless shelters with a goal to also visit women’s shelters and domestic abuse shelters as well soon.
Barnes gave more details to TNJ.com about her unique business.
TNJ.com: How did you come up with the idea for the Finance Bar?
Marsha Barnes: Personal finance teachings and financial literacy are often a missed component throughout our community, in schools and in corporations. This leads to students being unaware of how to properly manage money or finances in general. Additionally, research tells us that financial issues have been cited as the No.1 stressor for employees. The Finance Bar bridges the gap between communities and personal financial teachings by making the information easily accessible.
The Finance Bar is a non-profit 501 (c) (3) mobile hub that delivers this information to schools, organizations and corporations. I also recognized the need in many untapped areas, such as shelters, where this information is not being conveyed. There is a percentage of our population that doesn’t have access to computers or even transportation, our mobile hub solves those challenges.
TNJ.com: How did you fund the start-up?
MB: The Finance Bar was a grass root effort that was 100 percent funded with my personal funds. I’m extremely proud of that. I saw the need in my community and I took the risk to make it happen.
TNJ.com: How was the process of getting non-profit status?
MB: I worked with a local non-profit expert Yolanda Davis of the Y9 Group. Her expertise, knowledge and ability to easily convey what I needed to understand and what needed to happen for The Finance Bar to become a 501 (c) (3) made the process fairly simplistic.
TNJ.com: What has the response been?
MB: The community and abroad have been extremely supportive. Many people have a pretty clear understanding that conversations around personal finance are overlooked. What we aren’t taught we miss. Unfortunately, this has become the norm for young adults and adults. Seven out of ten seniors who leave public/private college institutions leave with debt of at least $28,000. This means before they are able to launch their careers debt is knocking at their door. In a survey conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of APA it was found that 72 percent of people stated that they are often stressed about their finances. In short the numbers and reality are there. I saw the need and I decided to do something about it.
The Finance Bar will be coming up on our one-year anniversary in November of this year. On December 1, and January 1 we’ll be hosting The Finance Bar|My Money Matters Initiative which will be a 24-hour drive to raise funds that will help us bring financial literacy into schools, college campuses, and to continue offering personal finance lessons to adults throughout the community.
TNJ.com: You expanded your reach digitally by creating an online hub, The Finance Bar Member’s club for women who wanted more financial freedom. Why did you start this?
MB: The Finance Bar Members Club allows me to have a greater reach beyond the mobile hub. It allows members to take a step by step approach to handling their finances. Each month there is a different subject discussed. Members receive a workbook monthly, a virtual session that includes Myself and a certified expert in the area that we’re discussing. We also have a private forum and actionable items for members to complete. There are many blogs, and even Google that will answer your personal finance questions; however, that’s not a strategic approach for helping someone to better understand how to solve their individual challenges around saving, budgeting, getting out of debt, learning the components of investing, etc. Again, the members club provides a hub that offers all of the above, step by step, at a very minimal price of dues at $10 per month. The tools are there. I only ask that members commit themselves to the process.
TNJ.com: How do you juggle all of this?
MB: Balance and discipline. I’m 100 percent committed to what I’ve created, and wholeheartedly believe in the need. I also have a team of individuals who assist me on the back-end inside the members club. They make the process a lot easier and enjoyable.
TNJ.com: What have been some of the challenges in starting and growing the Finance Bar brand?
MB: During the initial stages of launching The Finance Bar I had a vision; however, it wasn’t 100 percent clear. However, I’m a believer in when there’s a vision perfection isn’t the goal making it happen is. With almost one year in as a look back there haven’t been many challenges. A lot comes with operating a mobile unit, beyond website maintenance there’s bus maintenance and areas that you need to become knowledgeable of. Each week I pride myself on learning something new. I’m sitting on an idea that has been a need for a very long time. It’s here, now it’s time to change lives.
TNJ.com: What are the top three common financial mistakes individuals make?
MB: The most common would be not understanding their money. Many people have an understanding of how much they earn but aren’t aware of how much they spend. Second, would be living without a budget. Without a budget; how do you know where your money goes each month, or how much you’re saving. Last would be accruing debt and how debt works. Debt, can often be tasty initially. You’re able to get what you “want” really fast via a credit card or a loan; however, when that first payment comes those emotions quickly fade away.
TNJ.com: What are your goals for 2016?
MB: Loads of interaction with our local school system, launching our personal finance classes in January 2016, several appearances outside of major corporations. I’ve also thought it would be incredibly cool if employees could walk out to The Finance Bar during their lunch break or break to gain personal finance information or to chat about what they are currently experiencing. Continued growth in our virtual members club.
TNJ.com: What do you enjoy the most about what you do?
MB: The learning and growing phase. There’s so much to learn even in the challenging moments I embrace it all.