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Can You Live on Bitcoin Alone?

Remember the days when you actually had to carry cash because you couldn’t buy coffee or park at a meter with your card? Yeah, me neither. We live in a plastic world and nothing’s going to change that.

Or will it?

Some of the ways we use credit cards today may seem high tech, but that has nothing on Bitcoin. A decade ago, who would have imagined that people would be using a completely decentralized, virtual currency that they carry around on tiny computers in their pockets? Now, there are some who think that Bitcoin—which has invaded the press over the past year or so—will invade our wallets soon too.

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Putting it to the Test

Last year, Forbes writer, Kashmir Hill set out to test the likelihood of this theory by living exclusively on Bitcoin for an entire week. She just completed the experiment for a second time this year and ended up with radically different results. It turns out that living on Bitcoin in 2014 is a lot easier than it was a year ago.

That has mostly to do with the fact that over the past year, more and more companies have begun accepting them. Those providing basic human needs—food, for example—are still in the minority, but the number is growing. During her first experiment, only two food merchants in San Francisco accepted Bitcoin: a cupcake shop and a sushi restaurant. Delicious, but limited and expensive.

A Way Around Everything

Thanks to popular merchants like Overstock.com recently accenting Bitcoin, Hill was able to do some urgent gift buying this year. But even if Overstock hadn’t decided to go geek, Bitcoin enthusiasts have a way around that. Companies like Gyft have been created to play middleman between Bitcoin users and boring old merchants. Gyft does this by selling an array of digital gift cards for Bitcoin. Similarly, Foodler gives people a way to easily use Bitcoin to buy food.  A food delivery service, Foodler accepts Bitcoin so even if the restaurants themselves don’t, Bitcoin-ers can use their money at participating restaurants.

The Thrill of It All

Kashmir Hill has proven that a single woman can get by in San Francisco on Bitcoin for a week. But what about the rest of us? Would people outside of America’s tech capital be able to eat?

Not one to get food delivered often, I just searched Foodler’s list of Dallas restaurants for the first time. There are at least 80 listed, which means that you can get just about any type of food in Dallas with digital money. So, there’s that. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that a Bitcoin purist won’t end up starving. With the currency’s radical fluctuation in value, no one really knows how much money will be in their wallet the next day.

When Hill started her experiment in 2013, the value of one Bitcoin hovered around $136. This year, at the time of her second go, one Bitcoin was worth about $437. Until Bitcoin becomes truly mainstream, it’s going to be a risky investment. But if you’re the type to abandon your cash and cards just to see if you can, that’s probably part of the thrill.

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