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Want to Solve Financial Problems? Learn the ROPES


No matter where you are in your financial journey, there are always challenges to face and decisions to make. You might be working to pay off debt and trying to determine which method is best. Maybe you are unemployed or thinking about changing careers. Or perhaps you’ve fallen out of love with your bank or financial advisor and need to find an alternative that meets your needs. All of these situations are relatively easy to fix, but it may not seem like it if you’re the one living through it!

When we’re confronted with difficult choices, it can be tempting to put them off for as long as possible. You know you’ve seen it happen (or done it yourself) – throwing away unopened bills, avoiding checking bank balances, or even missing deadlines for things like applying for jobs or filing income taxes. And while that works for awhile, sticking your head in the sand doesn’t solve the original problem. It’s still there waiting for you when you’re done avoiding it.

Luckily there’s a way to help shake your indecision when you’re struggling with any part of your life, whether it’s financial or personal. I used this method with my therapy clients to help them take the emotion out of problem-solving and see their options more clearly. It’s a simple acronym called ROPES.


The first step in ROPES involves looking at available resources. This doesn’t necessarily mean you will use those resources, but you need to know what’s out there. Let’s imagine that you want to pay off a credit card balance of $5000.

  1. Look at your personal resources. What is your income? How much money do you have in savings? Is there something you could sell to pay off the balance? Are there expenses you could cut to devote more money to debt payoff?
  2. Look at your family resources. Do you have a rich uncle who would pay off your card balance and allow you to repay him without interest? (Hey, it’s worth a try!) Does your mom work at a bank that might approve a low-interest loan? What about family members who might owe you money?
  3. Look at your social environment. What have your friends done to pay off debt? Would one of them be willing to serve as an accountability partner? Is there a possibility that your boss would give you a raise or allow overtime to help with your debt payoff? There’s nothing wrong with using your personal connections as long as you’re not taking advantage of other people.
  4. Look at the larger community. Is there a debt counseling program nearby? What about financial education classes for adult learners? If the $5000 credit card balance is the least of your worries, have you considered a free bankruptcy consultation with an attorney?


Once you’ve listed all the possible resources that could help you solve your problem, it’s time to decide which of those resources might be realistic for your situation.

Ask yourself:

  • Which of these resources am I ready/willing/able to access right now?
  • What have I tried in the past? Was it successful?
  • What are the things I haven’t tried yet?
  • Out of the realistic options, which ones would I prefer to try first? Last?


While the Options part of ROPES is focused on the present, this step looks more at the future. Obviously if you’re trying to pay off a credit card, you’re thinking about no longer having that debt hanging over your head. But don’t stop there – think about what else that debt payoff could do for you in the long run.

Ask yourself:

  • How does solving this problem fit in with my future goals?
  • Will any of the options I chose help me avoid this problem in the future?
  • What will I do if my chosen option doesn’t work? What is my Plan B?


As I discussed in a previous post about solution-focused finances, it can be empowering to think about exceptions to the problem. Too often, we fixate on where we’ve failed and forget to give ourselves credit for the times we have succeeded. Sometimes looking at those times can help us think of solutions we may not have considered before.

Ask yourself:

  • When does this problem not happen, or when have I avoided it?
  • When has the problem been less stressful? What was different then?
  • How have I survived and thrived despite this problem?


This is the action phase of ROPES. It’s time to take those options and possibilities and turn them into something you can do to solve your problem. The only way to find out whether something works is to try it.

Ask yourself:

  • What’s working?
  • What have you done that you want to continue doing?
  • If a miracle happened and your problem disappeared immediately, what would you be able to do that you can’t do now? How does the option you chose align with this view of the future?

Have you learned the ROPES?

What are some problems, financial or otherwise, that you’ve solved or are struggling with now? Is it helpful to work through a set of steps like these to come up with solutions? 

About Andrea Whitmer

Andrea is a freelance web developer and mom trying to maintain a sense of humor in an otherwise chaotic world. She blogs in hopes of helping others avoid the same mistakes she made in the past. Join in the discussion here on So Over This, or connect on Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, or Google Plus. You can also subscribe to new posts via RSS so you never miss out!


  1. I have never heard of ROPES – that's a great framework of looking at any problem, not just financial. My fiance and I are trying to work through some stressful finances right now because of his grad school funding (or lack thereof), and I am going to use ROPES to figure out a Plan B.

    • Glad it might be helpful to you! I'm shuddering just remembering my grad school financing situation – I truly believe there should be MORE funding for a graduate degree than undergrad. People go to college with no clue what they want to do, drink and party for 4 years (not always but a lot of the time), and the government pays for them to do it. Then when people are focused and want a degree that will help them in an actual career, it's like, Oops! Sorry! No money for you! I don't understand it.

  2. I hadn't heard of ropes either, but sounds helpful. I have a big fat monster brownstone investment property in Boston that I'm looking to get rid of. I'm not underwater or anything and a buddy manages it (co-owner) but I've really been into a simplicity movement lately and would like to get it out of my brain and move on into things on my own. But having a partner complicates it a bunch… 🙂

    • I have no good words of wisdom on that one! Another person being involved definitely makes it tricky. Though you never know – he may be sitting around going, “Man, I'd love to just take this thing over completely, but I'm scared it would be too complicated and Nick would say no!” 😀

      • 🙂 Yeah, we talk about it a bit. He might want to take it over, but $$ is the issue (i.e. his lack of money). Fortunately we both have the right mindset (we got in this mess for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health… just hopefully not as long as we both shall live!

  3. This was a great article! I'm sure the women I work with would really benefit so I'm gonna post this on my website.

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