Bitcoin, a digital currency, burst on the scene in 2009 as a rival to government-backed folding bills and jangling coins.
As touted by its supporters, the peer-to-peer currency promises greater security (the currency is highly encrypted), transparency (all transactions are publicly viewable), anonymity (you don’t have to attach your name to your account), no sales tax and no transaction fees.
Bitcoin may sound like a good idea, but assuming you’re not a venture capitalist with millions to invest, you may be wondering: Where can I actually spend it?
In the last five years, a growing number of websites, retailers and even brick-and-mortar businesses have begun accepting the cryptocurrency. Here’s a guide to what your bitcoins can buy.
Overstock.com became the largest online retailer to accept bitcoin in January 2014, giving the cryptocurrency users access to an inventory that includes home décor, clothing, shoes, jewelry, beauty products, electronics and more. TigerDirect, an online electronic retailer, quickly followed suit the same month. Since then, Newegg, an online retailer of computer products has joined the party — bitcoin holders have been able to pay for their shopping deals in digital currency since July 2014.
You can also use bitcoin at Shopify, a platform that features thousands of online shops and has accepted the online currency since November 2013. Some Etsy vendors also accept bitcoins.
To get the most of your coins, purchase gift cards at eGifter and Gyft. Although major retailers like Amazon, CVS and Sears don’t take bitcoin directly, gift cards offer a way to use your digital cash at your favorite store.
Dozens of websites have welcomed bitcoin, allowing users to purchase premium services with the digital currency. Among the best-known sites are the online forums Reddit and 4chan, the online dating service OKCupid and the blog platform WordPress.
If you’re feeling charitable with your cryptocurrency, you can donate to Internet organizations and services including Wikileaks, the Pirate Bay, the Internet Archive and Fight for the Future.
Food and drink
Forbes journalist Kashmir Hill discovered last year that food and drink posed a major roadblock when she tried living on bitcoin for a week. The greenback still comes in handy for buying lunch and a coffee, but the number of establishments supporting the currency has increased.
Using Pizza for Coins, you can order from Domino’s, Pizza Hut and Papa John’s. The first bitcoin purchase of pizza, in May 2010, cost 10,000 BTC for about $25 worth of pizza. Since then, the value of the currency has soared drastically. You’d get about $4 million worth of pizza today!
When pizza doesn’t cut it, browse BitcoinRestaurants.com to locate a cryptocurrency-friendly dining establishment near you. The site currently displays 76 restaurants across the country, spanning 26 states with noticeable clusters in New York City and California’s Silicon Valley. For more options, the online restaurant service Menufy lets you order in bitcoins from hundreds of restaurants across the country that otherwise wouldn’t accept the currency.
Coffee enthusiasts can order ground coffee and beans from online retailers BitCoffee and BitBrew. If it’s fresh coffee you’re looking for, your options are a bit more limited. In theory, Coin for Coffee manages bitcoin transactions at Starbucks, but the site is down right now, so it’s not a great bet if you rely on that cup of joe to get through your day.
New York City–based bitcoiners can grab crepes at O’Crepes in Brooklyn. For baked desserts, the small Cups and Cakes Bakery in San Francisco takes payments in bitcoins and even offers bitcoin-themed cupcakes. Other bakeries to accept the digital currency include Pangea Bakery Cafe in San Diego and Rise Biscuits and Donuts in Durham, North Carolina.
When heading out for drinks with bitcoins in your digital pocket, New York City is a great place to be. The city is home to many establishments that support bitcoin, including Old Man Hustle on the Lower East Side and EVR NYC in the heart of Manhattan’s Empire District.
For a complete list of businesses that take bitcoin in your area, check out CoinMap.org.
The mobile gaming company Zynga, best known for the Facebook favorite Farmville, broke new ground when it decided to accept bitcoin, driving the value of the currency up to $1,000 in early 2014. If gambling is more your style, you can try your luck at the bitcoin-only online casino Primedice.com.
If you happen to be a student at the University of Nicosia in Cyprus, rejoice — the institution was the first accredited university to accept tuition in bitcoin. In the U.K., students at the University of Cumbria can pay in bitcoins for two new programs related to the study of cryptocurrencies, and the King’s College, a private Christian liberal arts school in New York City, lets students pay tuition in the digital currency. The Silicon Valley–based Draper University is not accredited but has been accepting bitcoins for its entrepreneurship programs since 2013.
If you can’t pay for local public transportation with bitcoin, don’t worry. Virgin Galactic — not be confused with the airline Virgin Atlantic, a sister company — is a commercial spaceflight company that offers would-be astronauts the opportunity to venture into space. Seats on a Virgin Galactic spacecraft go for $250,000, and since November 2013, the company has been accepting payment in bitcoins as well.
Written by Melinda Szell
Bitcoin image via Shutterstock.