Making Your First Option Trade

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You know what an option is, and you believe that you understand how it works, but please demonstrate some patience before placing your money at risk. You are bursting with anticipation and cannot wait to begin raking in the money. However, it is not that easy. Here is a look at the pitfalls of buying options before you are ready to trade.

Key Takeaways

  • Traders should carefully consider how option details like strike price, expiration date, and implied volatility will impact their potential profit (or loss).
  • Beginners may be tempted to buy many different cheap, out-of-the-money (OTM) options, when they should instead pay more for fewer options that are closer to the strike price.
  • Stocks don't trade in a vacuum, so don't lose sight of the broader market.

A Typical Example of Buying Call Options

Your favorite stock (FAVR) is currently $42.50, and you love its prospects. You just "know" that FAVR will be trading above $50 per share fairly soon. Based on that anticipation, you open a brokerage account and buy 10 FAVR call options. They expire in 90 days and are struck at $50 (i.e., the strike price is $50). You can hardly wait to see the money roll in.

What happens? Usually, expiration day arrives, and the options become worthless. The once-eager, new options trader (along with many experienced traders who should have known better) loses every penny invested.

The truly sad part is that your inclination was right on the money. FAVR did move higher, and 90 days after your option purchase, the market price was $46. The only problem is that you correctly predicted the price increase but still lost money. It is bad enough to lose when your prediction is wrong, but losing money when it is correct is a bad result, yet happens all the time in the options world.

Unfortunately, this is a common result, so before buying options, please consider some things that you must understand about options. The purpose here is to make you aware of vital information. The details can wait until you have a better understanding of the basic concepts of options.

Earning a Profit

Many factors go into the price of an option. A trader cannot simply "buy calls" and expect to make money when the stock price rises. Much more is involved. The problem is that brand-new traders are unaware of all the other factors that affect whether the trade will earn a profit or lose money.

You expect the stock price to rise (i.e., you are bullish), but by how much do you expect the price to change? Is it reasonable, based on FAVR's price history, to expect the stock to move to $50 (an increase of almost 18%) in 90 days? 

A history of the stock's average daily price change (volatility) provides a good clue to the correct answer. It is a poor strategy to buy (OTM) call options with a strike price of $50 if the average stock price move is $0.05 per day. However, it is a reasonable play when the average daily stock price change is $0.50 per day. Be aware of just how volatile the stock price has been in the past.

Strike Price

It is not necessary to buy OTM options, despite the fact that this is the choice of many traders. They believe their prediction will come true, and they want to buy the cheapest options, probably because most undereducated option traders want to own "a lot" of options rather than just a few.

It is similar to the thought process that makes someone buy lottery tickets. The odds may be terrible, but the possibility of a huge payoff is too much to resist. Based on volatility data, buy options that have a good chance to be in the money at a later date (before the options expire). Thus, it would be reasonable to buy FAVR calls struck at $40, $42.5 (if such options exist), or $45.

Deciding how much to pay for options requires some trading experience, but you must be aware of several items.

  • Was the option price reasonable, or was the implied volatility of this option too high?
  • Did buying these options at this price give you a fair chance to make any money based on your expectation for the price increase?
  • Was the bid-ask spread too wide? Wide markets are more difficult to trade. Did you make the mistake of paying the asking price? You should always try to do better?

Holding for Too Long

When buying options, do not plan on holding them until expiration arrives. Options are wasting assets, and your plan should include getting out of the trade as soon as it becomes feasible. It is easy to fall in love with a profitable option trade and hold onto it, looking for a much larger profit. Do not allow that to happen. Sometimes you earn the target profit. At other times it means giving up on the trade and selling the options while they still have value. If the stock price reaches your target (or gets near that target price), it is time to take your gains and sell the option.

The Stock Market

Was this a good time to make such a bullish play? Do you believe the stock market is headed higher? Most stocks do not move in a vacuum, and their rise and fall are dependent on the performance of other stocks. In other words, is the market bullish or bearish?

Did you consider all these factors? Did you consider any of them? The bottom line is that if you do not pay attention to each factor, then your chances of earning money become smaller, and the loss of your entire investment becomes the most likely result (especially when you purchase OTM options).

It is not enough to have a strong belief that the market will move higher or lower. When buying options, the option price has a large influence on the potential profitability of the trade and often matters more than a change in the price of the underlying stock. Thus, you should not pay too much (based on implied volatility) for your options.


It is very important to recognize how easy it is to lose money when buying options. Most traders only think about "how much money can I earn?" Please avoid using options to gamble.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How can you learn and practice options trading?

Some brokerages offer special practice accounts known as "paper trading" or "demo" accounts. These accounts are funded with pretend money to place hypothetical trades. This is a great way to test out new products and strategies to ensure that you're profitable before you risk real money.

What is binary options trading?

Binary options, such as those offered by Nadex, are essentially statements that traders take positions on. These are very different from standard stock or ETF options. Many binary options include a price and stock index, commodity, or currency pairing, but they can also concern economic events like employment figures. For example, a binary option could be something like "Will the price of an ounce of gold be above $1,800 at 1:30 p.m.?" Traders who want to answer "Yes" will buy the binary option, and if it is, then those traders get paid a profit. Traders can also answer "No" to the statement by selling binary options and opening a short position.

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  1. TD Ameritrade. "The Deal With Large Bid/Ask Options Spreads."

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