What’re the best chess pieces? 

We have the queen, obviously, but also rooks, bishops, knights… Imagine a calendar spread as the knight’s – unexpected and capable of jumping over hurdles, unlike any other piece on the board. The calendar spread allows traders to tactically navigate the chessboard of the market, harnessing theta decay and market volatility, much like a knight leaps over pawns.

At the heart of this maneuver is the exploitation of varying expiration dates, offering traders an edge, whether they are beginners starting out with options or experienced traders looking for more complex strategies. This strategy can be a game-changer, presenting both opportunities and challenges.

As we journey through this article, we’ll delve deep into the world of calendar spreads. By dissecting its various components, from its core mechanics to real-world implications, we aim to equip you with a good understanding of this strategy. Ready to make your knight’s move in the world of options trading? Let’s begin.

What is a Calendar Spread?

How do you get time on your side with options? The calendar spread might just be your answer. At its core, a calendar spread is about buying and selling two options contracts with identical strike prices but different expiration dates. You’re essentially betting on time, more than just the stock’s price movement.

The strategy gets the name calendar from its spread across expiration dates. The graphs gives you some clues: 

The chart shows vertical, diagonal, and calendar spreads - with strike prices on the y-axis, and expirations plotted on the x-axis.

A calendar spread gets its “calendar” name due to the spread between expiration dates across a calendar.

So if you have two different expirations dates, they’re literally spread across a calendar, hence the name. 

It draws its name from its focus on time. Generally, the tactic is to sell an option that expires sooner and buy one that expires later. The aim? To leverage the accelerated time decay of the near-term option. For traders who have a keen eye for the intricacies of time decay, this strategy is a powerful ally.

Whether you’re a cautious investor eyeing less risk or a dynamic trader chasing more intricate plays, the calendar spread fits various needs. It’s versatile, serving both income and speculative needs. 

Mechanics of a Calendar Spread

Setting up a calendar spread might sound daunting, but it’s relatively simple. You interact with two options: selling one that’s short-term and buying another that’s long-term. Both share the same strike price but have distinct expiration dates. The goal? To benefit from the faster decay of the short-lived option.

Picking strike prices offers choices: at-the-money (ATM), in-the-money (ITM), or out-of-the-money (OTM) based on your market projection. You can employ both calls and puts with this strategy. Using multi-leg options orders on trading platforms makes opening these positions concurrently more efficient. 

Buying vs. Selling a Calendar Spread

Purchasing a calendar spread revolves around profiting from the expanding price difference between two options. You’re wagering that the underlying asset will stay relatively still until the near-term option’s expiration. On the flip side, selling a calendar spread flips the long and short-term options’ roles. Your bet? That the price difference between both options will narrow.

Whether buying or selling, it demands a strategic view of market conditions. Yet, the mechanics remain simple, making it accessible for traders of all expertise levels. 

Different Types of Calendar Spreads

Calendar spreads come in diverse flavors, each catering to specific market conditions and trading aspirations:

  • Diagonal Calendar Spread: Diagonal spreads involve options with different expiration dates and strike prices. It aims to tap into both time decay and price movement, adding an extra layer of complexity.
  • Double Calendar Spread: Essentially, you’re crafting two calendar spreads concurrently using both calls and puts. It’s a balanced strategy, cashing in on volatility spikes in any direction.
  • Reverse Calendar Spread: Here, you buy a short-term option while selling a long-term one, often with identical strike prices. It’s suited for bearish or volatile markets and demands sharp market insights.

When to Employ a Calendar Spread

The beauty of a calendar spread shines in stagnant markets. Minimal price oscillations mean you can exploit time decay to your benefit. Predicting a calm market spell? The calendar spread is your ally. Moreover, if you foresee a mild rise or dip in the asset’s price, the strategy offers both a safety net and upside potential.

However, it’s not a universal fit. Variations in market volatility, especially changes in implied volatility across expiration dates, can influence a calendar spread’s efficacy. You can follow instant trade alerts to get a better idea of when you can employ the spread too. With a clear market vision and understanding of volatility nuances, you’ll discern when this strategy aligns with your trading blueprint. 

Calculating Profit and Loss of Calendar Spread

Wondering about potential returns and risks? Calculating them is more direct than it appears. 

Subtract the sold option’s premium from the bought option’s to get the net premium. This determines your break-even points. 

As for risk, it’s usually confined to the initial net premium paid. In the worst case, if both options expire worthless, that’s your maximum loss. On the other hand, your max gain is often capped by the premium of the sold option, adjusted by the premium difference of the bought option. 

Calendar Spread Pros and Cons

Dabbling in calendar spreads demands an understanding of both its merits and demerits:


  • Low Risk: Calendar spreads involve simultaneously buying and selling options, which means potential losses are often capped to the initial premium paid. This hedged structure limits the overall risk exposure, irrespective of substantial market movements.  
  • Stable Income: The strategy primarily capitalizes on the time decay of the short-term option while holding a longer-term option. This allows traders to consistently earn from the premium decay, especially when the underlying asset’s price remains relatively stable. 
  • Flexibility: Traders can adjust their positions in response to market shifts, such as rolling to new expiration dates. This adaptability ensures they can respond to changing market conditions without starting anew


  • Requires Precise Forecasting: The success of calendar spreads hinges on accurately predicting future price and volatility. Misjudging these factors can lead to missed income opportunities or potential losses.
  • Commission and Fee Impacts: Every trade comes with a cost. Adjusting positions frequently means incurring more fees, which can reduce the net profit, especially in thin-margin scenarios.

Though calendar spreads offer consistency, especially in stable markets, they do demand a sharp forecast of future volatility and price trends. Major price shifts can hamper the strategy. Commissions and fees, particularly with frequent position adjustments, can also erode gains. 

Real-World Example

Picture this: you’re a proud owner of 100 shares of Apple (AAPL), each priced at a healthy $175. With an optimistic yet conservative outlook, you decide to implement a calendar spread strategy. You initiate by selling a one-month call option with a strike price of $180, fetching you a premium of $4 per share. Simultaneously, you hedge your bets by purchasing a two-month call option, also at a strike price of $180. This one comes at a slightly steeper premium of $5 per share.

Now let’s break down the numbers: The difference in premiums is $1 ($5 – $4); multiply that by the 100 shares you have, and you find yourself with an initial outlay of $100.

As days go by, if Apple’s stock price remains relatively stable and doesn’t breach the $180 mark by the expiration of your one-month option, you get to pocket that $4 premium per share from the option you sold. Meanwhile, you still hold the longer-term call option, keeping your strategic position intact. This allows you potential future opportunities or flexibility to adjust based on market conditions.

This more comprehensive scenario highlights not only the calendar spread’s ability to generate a steady stream of income but also its capacity to offer traders flexibility in maneuvering through market conditions.


In our deep dive into calendar spreads, we have unveiled the intricate details of this options trading strategy. From its unique structure of leveraging differing expiration dates to the nuanced variations like diagonal, double, and reverse calendar spreads, this approach offers traders an opportunity to benefit from time decay and market fluctuations. 

Furthermore, understanding the key moments to deploy such a strategy, paired with the ability to calculate potential returns and risks, empowers traders to make informed decisions. While the benefits of consistent income, flexibility, and low risk are appealing, it’s essential to remain cognizant of the complexities of forecasting and potential fees. Now, with this comprehensive overview in hand, you can assess whether calendar spreads resonate with your trading style and aspirations. 

Decoding Calendar Spreads: FAQs

How Does Implied Volatility Influence a Calendar Spread?

The behavior of implied volatility plays a significant role in the success of a calendar spread. When implied volatility is expected to rise, the strategy often becomes more profitable, especially if the increase occurs closer to the short-term option’s expiration date.

What Tax Consequences Should I Be Aware Of?

The tax treatment of calendar spreads can be complex. In general, short-term capital gains rates will apply to profits from positions held for less than a year, while long-term rates apply to those held longer.

Is it Possible to Modify a Calendar Spread Over Time?

Yes, you can adjust a calendar spread. One common adjustment technique is rolling, which involves buying back the near-term option and selling a new one with a later expiration date.

How Does a Calendar Spread Differ From a Diagonal Spread?

While both strategies use options with different expiration dates, a diagonal spread also employs options with different strike prices. The risk and return profile can be different due to this additional variability.

What Steps are Needed to Close a Calendar Spread Position?

Closing a calendar spread typically involves buying back the short-term option you sold and selling the long-term option you own. However, each can be closed independently based on your market outlook or strategy.