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Got A Personal Finance Question? Don't Miss The Bus

Marsha Barnes shows off the bus that makes the Finance Bar possible.
Joshua Galloway
Courtesy of Marsha Barnes
Marsha Barnes shows off the bus that makes the Finance Bar possible.

Personal finance coach Marsha Barnes doesn't operate out of an office. In fact, she doesn't stay in any single place for too long.

By day, 9 to 5, Barnes says she's a corporate trainer. But she also takes her business on the road, all over her community of Charlotte, N.C., teaching people how to get control of their finances — and doing it in a 1988 bus.

"I didn't have a clue of how to drive it," Barnes tells NPR's Rachel Martin.

But she did figure it out, and now she's giving professional finance advice to pretty much anyone who asks. She started out charging people $30 for a counseling session, but she recently turned her company — which she calls the Finance Bar — into a fully certified 501(c)(3). That means she operates as a nonprofit now, only taking donations.

"I didn't want to leave anyone out," she says. "Wherever I'm needed, I'm there."

A glimpse inside Barnes' mobile Finance Bar.
Maya Elious / Courtesy of Marsha Barnes
Courtesy of Marsha Barnes
A glimpse inside Barnes' mobile Finance Bar.

Interview Highlights

On the bus that fuels her coaching

It's only a little bit shorter than your traditional-sized school bus. It's a very pretty green. It's not necessarily money-green. And inside, I have it outfitted like a mobile office. I even have a couch. So, it's pretty chic!

On why she takes to the bus, rather than staying in one spot

I'm thinking of homeless shelters, women's shelters, men's shelters — individuals that I know they're not able to come to me.

On the kinds of questions she gets most often

"Why don't I understand where my money goes each month?" "Why is my credit score so bad?" "How can I help myself help my credit score?" I mean, tons of debt, student loan debt questions. So, it's a variety of it.

The bus, of course, the name of it is the Finance Bar. And I use the word "bar" because there's not one specific area that I specialize in, so it's not just a budgeting bar. People can pick off a menu, so if your challenge is that you have a problem with the budget, let's talk about budgets. If it's that you need help with your debt and managing your debt and there's a session for that, and then so forth and so on. So it just depends.

But the question I get most often is just, "Why don't I ever see my money?" I make the money, I pay my bills on time but I just don't understand why I'm not able to save better.

On whether she ever feels overwhelmed

It's constantly overwhelming, because it's not just a finance coach. I often feel like some sort of therapist. But that was the purpose of the Finance Bar. It was a safe place for people to be able to come talk about it without any judgment, and to be able to work through those emotions — the emotions of spending, the emotions of thinking we need a lot all at one time. Yeah, it definitely becomes overwhelming. I'm overwhelmed right now, thinking about it!

On what's next

Oh, I don't know where I'm going next. I'd like to have many buses in several different cities, but as of right now it's still pretty early in the game.

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