The market value of that home may have doubled to $800,000. But because the down payment locked in a pre-determined price, the buyer pays $400,000. Now, in an alternate scenario, say the zoning approval doesn’t come through until year four. This is one year past the expiration of this option. Now the home buyer must pay the market price because the contract has expired. In either case, the developer keeps the original $20,000 collected.

If in six months the market crashes by 20% (500 points on the index), he or she has made 250 points by being able to sell the index at $2250 when it is trading at $2000—a combined loss of just 10%. In fact, even if the market drops to zero, the loss would only be 10% if this put option is held. Again, purchasing the option will carry a cost (the premium), and if the market doesn’t drop during that period, the maximum loss on the option is just the premium spent.

However, unless soybeans were priced at $15 per bushel in the market on the expiration date, the farmer had either gotten paid more than the prevailing market price or missed out on higher prices. If soybeans were priced at $13 per bushel at expiry, the farmer's $15 hedge would be $2 per bushel higher than the market price for a gain of $2,000,000. On the other hand, if soybeans were trading at $17 per bushel at expiry, the $15 selling price from the contract means the farmer would have missed out on an additional $2 per bushel profit.

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An option is a contract that allows (but doesn't require) an investor to buy or sell an underlying instrument like a security, ETF or even index at a predetermined price over a certain period of time. Buying and selling options is done on the options market, which trades contracts based on securities. Buying an option that allows you to buy shares at a later time is called a "call option," whereas buying an option that allows you to sell shares at a later time is called a "put option."