Northwestern Mutual
How the Finance Bar Put Financial Education on Wheels How the Finance Bar Put Financial Education on Wheels
< Back to Insights & Ideas

How the Finance Bar Put Financial Education on Wheels

Insights & Ideas Team •  October 19, 2016 | Your Finances

When Marsha Barnes’s parents faced an unexpected financial setback, her existing passion for providing financial literacy was set ablaze.   

“When both of my parents were laid off from jobs that they had been in for 20-plus years within six months of each other, what would have been an emergency for most people wasn’t for them because they were financially prepared. Others aren’t as prepared as my parents were—but they could be.”

Barnes believes many Americans are experiencing some serious financial anxiety (unlike her parents), largely due to a lack of planning and preparation.

Recent research would support Barnes’s claim. The 2016 Northwestern Mutual Planning and Progress Study found that 85 percent of Americans report feeling financial anxiety today; and it’s getting worse; 36 percent say their anxiety has gone up in the last three years.

After working in the financial services industry in Charlotte, N.C., for more than 13 years in both the corporate sector and through her original personal finance nonprofit, Barnes had an idea of how she could better serve those financially anxious Americans. Because many of her nonprofit clients didn’t have access to transportation, she had a hunch the process could be simplified. That’s when Charlotte’s food truck boom stirred her imagination.

“I had an inkling—if they put food on a food truck, I can put finances on a bus. The bus solved the problem and allowed me to meet them where they are, literally, on their financial journey.”

The Finance Bar hit the road in November 2014, functioning as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit accepting only donations, and people have been “bellying up” ever since. The bus got its name because the inside is set up like a bar, offering coaching on a full range of financial issues over a cup of coffee or tea.

Barnes takes her personal finance hub on wheels to college campuses, corporations, churches and wherever else there are people desiring to learn more about effectively managing their finances. Barnes hopes to ease financial anxiety by working with individuals and couples to help them reach their personalized financial goals.

Bridging the Gap

When boarding the Finance Bar, don’t expect to discuss intricate investment strategies. Barnes found her niche bridging the gap between banking, personal finance and financial planners; she considers her strong suit to be “emotional economics.”

“From my end, I have to tap into the emotions of people. For example, if I’m speaking to a young lady who is living above her means, I may suggest she cut back on a few things. Maybe she can’t afford that monthly trip to the nail salon, but for her, that’s emotional because that indulgence makes her feel good. For her I would suggest setting a savings goal or challenge, which would help her to understand that the temporary sacrifice results in long-term gain and financial security.”

Creating a Solid Financial Plan: Your Guide to Money ManagementShe consulted her own emotions when naming the bus as well. The bus is affectionately named Maggie, after her grandmother Margaret. “My grandmother has a huge, non-judgmental heart—which is something I strive to emulate with everyone I come in contact with. Naming the bus after her keeps me grounded in my purpose.”

Back to the Basics

Due partially to disappearing employee pension plans and the advent of digital consumerism, Barnes believes people are approaching their finances differently these days. But when it comes to personal finance, she suggests going back to the basics.

“I remember seeing one of my mom’s paystubs and thinking she didn’t make much but always had what she needed. She would say, ‘You can’t spend the same money twice’—whether that money is the mortgage or other bills. Back then, adults paused before spending.”

Barnes also believes that the current practice of not pausing before making important financial decisions explains why people are sometimes jumping on financial fads and ignoring personal finance basics. “There are a lot of knee-jerk decisions being made these days because people don’t pause.”

The Finance Bar is a new concept striving to solve an age-old problem. People are working hard, making money and frequently not knowing where their funds are ending up when they fail to plan, budget and spend consciously.

“People don’t hear enough of the honest truth. We’re working full-time jobs, making decent money; but at the end of the day we don’t know where it’s going. This is the untold story of what’s happening with the American wallet. If no one brings it to the forefront, we’ll continue to see people in these tough financial situations.” 

Rate This Article