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.
- 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?
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?