How to use options

Lesson in Course: Derivatives and options (beginner, 8min)

If we understand how options work, how and when should we use them?


What it's about: There are three different ways to use options. 

Why it's important: We need to pick the right use case depending on our needs.

Key takeaway: Hedging is used to reduce risk. Leverage and speculating are used to increase risk.

Over the past few years, speculative investors broadly popularized YOLO (you only live once) bets or YOLO-folios (entire portfolios of YOLO bets). These bets often use high-risk options in hopes of earning huge returns while risking everything. Interestingly, the world's first YOLO option bet was between a Greek philosopher named Thales and olive presses in the 6th-century BC. 

Thales had speculated that the olive harvest for the following year would be an exceptionally good one. So he sold all he had and placed a deposit on the local olive presses, which guaranteed him the use of the presses in the following year at a low rate. The bet paid off! When all the trees were burgeoning with olives at harvest the following year, Thales charged olive farmers a hefty premium to use the presses. How are options used today?

Basics of using options

Options contracts are very versatile. They can be used to speculate, add leverage to a position, or lower the risk to an investor by hedging. Regardless of the use, investors like Thales decide to use options when they have an opinion on the future price of an asset. If we think the future price will go up, we would consider buying call options

What is Call option?

A call option is a contract between two parties that allows the holder of the contract to buy stock from the seller of the contract at a predetermined price (strike price).

By entering into an agreement to purchase shares at a fixed price today, we will profit in the future when the price increases above the strike price. Through the agreement, we would be able to buy our shares at a discount to the increasing prices. As the discount grows, so does the value of the call option. However, if we think the future price will go down, we would consider buying put options

What is Put option?

A put option is a contract between two parties that allows the holder of the contract to sell stock to the seller of the contract at a predetermined price (strike price).

An agreement to sell shares at the strike price allows us to profit when the price drops below the strike price. Since the counterparty has to buy our shares at the strike price, we could be able to sell the shares, dropping in value, at a premium. As this premium grows, so does the value of the put option.

Puts bet on the price decreasing and calls bet on price increasing

Now that we understand the basics of how options are used, let's cover each of the use cases listed above.

Reasons for buying options


Options are inherently speculative because contracts only exist for a short period of time.

Options are bets on timing

We can hold a stock for a long period of time (assuming it does not become bankrupt or acquired) whereas an option can only trade for a set period of time before it expires. Options make it easy for us to essentially bet on what we think a stock price will do in the short term without having to own the underlying stock.

Here's an example of how we can speculate with a call option.

Speculating example

Sarah, who has been investing for a few months now, has noticed a big increase in Tesla and electric cars on the road recently. She comes to a quick realization, "All these drivers are going to need a place to charge their cars. Chargepoint $CHPT, a company that operates roadside charging stations, will make more money as a business." She looks at $CHPT stock and sees the stock is trading around $23 per share. She looks at $CHPT call options and sees a contract she likes for $350 and she decides to buy a call option for the earnings report next month.


Speculating with options can be exciting and attractive since many brokerages have made it easy to do, the cost is relatively low compared to buying the stock, and the potential payout can be much greater than owning stock. While easy to start with, speculating is also easy to get wrong. In the case the stock price moves against our bet, our option can quickly become worthless and we've lost all of our money. A lot of people lose money speculating with options every year.


Adding options to existing stock positions creates leverage or an amplified effect on gains or losses.

Gains and losses can swing wildly just like a see-saw

A single options contract typically represents the right to buy or sell 100 shares of the underlying stock. So options provide us leverage because we can buy a single option contract for a fraction of what it would cost to actually buy all 100 shares.

This means options are a cheaper way to double down on an investment we like. Here's a quick example of how leverage can be created with options.

Leverage example

Jimmy has been holding Apple stock $AAPL for a while. He noticed that the new subscriptions product line Apple launched has been doing exceptionally well. He wants to double down on $AAPL. The current stock is trading around $105 a share, and Jimmy doesn't have enough cash to double his position on $AAPL. Instead, Jimmy buys 5 call contracts on $AAPL to effectively increase his $AAPL position by 500 shares at a fraction of the cost of buying the shares outright.

If Jimmy's bet pays off, his returns will be much higher than if he had bought shares. On the other hand, if he's wrong about the stock price and the shares drop by 5%, the options he purchased would have lost much more than 5% in value.


Using options for leverage is still speculative in nature, even if we use options for leverage on stock we already own. In the worst-case scenario here, if the options contract becomes worthless, we still own the shares and haven't lost all our money.


Instead of placing risky bets, we can use options to decrease risk, which is called hedging.

Hedging protects our portfolio

Using options to hedge is a lot like buying insurance against a drop in value of our current investments. We can buy put options that bet on negative price movements to offset our risk.

Let's walk through a quick example.

Hedging example

Kim works at a hedge fund and she has an outsized position in a telephony company $TWLO. She loves everything about the company including margins, market growth, and leadership. However, she's worried about the recent surge in the market. Kim decides to hedge against any future drops in price by buying put options that provide a 50% hedge on her stock position.

The best-case scenario for Kim is that $TWLO continues to go up in price, and she never needs the insurance provided by her put options—she only lost the cost of the put options or her insurance. Alternatively, if the stock drops significantly, the put option helps offset 50% of her losses.


The profits we gain from put options make up for losses in our stock position if the stock price drops. 

Reasons for selling options

Selling options generate a return or income

Cashing in

We can sell our options at any time and receive the premium a buyer is willing to pay to hold the option.

We can imagine that the townsfolk were eager to purchase back the rights to use the olive presses from Thales when they saw how many trees were flowering and bearing fruit. At that point, Thales had the opportunity to give up his rights to the presses to receive a lot more than his initial deposit. While Thales ended up holding onto his contract, we, on the other hand, could elect to cash in early by selling our options contract at any time. In practice, many investors and traders end up selling their contracts at times of profit or even at times of losses without exercising.

Generating income

Selling the right to a contract can generate upfront income.

If we jump back to the beginning of the story, the townsfolk decided to sell the olive press contract to Thales to generate income on their presses. Thales had placed a deposit the year prior which became income for the townsfolk. Ultimately we know that Thales profited more than the townsfolk on that exchange; however, if the harvest was poor for the following year, the townsfolk would have generated good income for idle presses.

Actionable ideas

Before we start trading wildly, we need to decide how we want to use options. Out of all of the ways to trade, freely speculating is the riskiest. There's no downside protection, and any unexpected swing in price can result in big losses for us. Using options to leverage or hedge stocks that we already own are safer ways to get started. 


What is Call option?

A call option gives the owner the right to buy a stock at the strike price.

Owning a $9 strike Ford call option means we have the right to buy $F stock at $9, but we aren't obligated to buy if the market price for $F is below $9.

What is Put option?

A put option gives the owner the right to sell a stock at the strike price.