I’ve been interested in bitcoin (BTC) as a concept since its inception. Until recently, however, I considered bitcoin more of a cryptographic experiment than something that could affect my daily life.
One of the biggest obstacles for me was practicality. A few years ago, buying bitcoin or selling them in order to get fiat (“real” currency such as American dollars or Euros) wasn’t easy at all. Now, however, bitcoin has become much more common as a currency and the technology required to use it has also become more user friendly.
With these improvements in mind, I have decided to try and use bitcoin as my only source of money. I don’t know about you, but honestly I’m sick and tired of the banking system. For one thing, I’m sick of being told to “trust” that my money is safe, even when I have no idea where it is or who is controlling it. With bitcoin, this is never an issue.
At the same time, I hate the idea that someone is monitoring how much I can withdraw or deposit at any given time. It’s my money and I should be able to access it whenever I want, without the interference or input of the government or banking officials. The same goes for mandatory waiting times on wire transfers—this isn’t a technical issue, banks are free to continue speculating on my money even when I am not able to access it. And, obviously, banking fees are a huge scam. They are simply way too high for the quality of service provided.
Please be aware that what follows is still a work in progress. I’m learning and experimenting as I go along. If you want to follow a similar path, make sure you know what you’re doing first—don’t just take my word for it.
Like any other big life change, there are a few logistical issues we need to solve upfront. The first and most important one is safety. There are plenty of services that will allow you to create your own bitcoin wallet, but wallets stored on the web are as secure as the web infrastructure they rely upon.
Remember, no matter how safe they claim to be, web services can be hacked (or simply go bankrupt). When this happens, you could lose all your money. Bitcoin has no central entity, meaning there’s no financial guarantee that you will get your bitcoin back if they somehow disappear.
Obviously, there is no way to perfectly protect your money, but buying a hardware wallet is a good place to start. Personally I’ve bought a Trezor, but there are plenty of other options available out there. A hardware wallet like the Trezor stores your cryptographic keys (the sequences you use to send or receive bitcoin). Bitcoin has no central entity, meaning there’s no financial guarantee that you will get your bitcoin back. Your computer sends each transaction to the device, and the device makes the transaction. There is no flow of information from the wallet to your computer, which makes it much harder for a malicious third party to compromise your bitcoin by hacking into your computer.
Moreover, if you lose your device or break it, you can recover your bitcoin from the “initialization seed” given to you when you initialize the device for the first time.
As a general rule, you should only move the minimum amount of bitcoin you require out of your hardware wallet, and always remember to enable two-factor authentication. Having a very strong and unique password for every different web service is also good practice. You can use software such as KeepPass, 1Password or SafeInCloud in order to generate and store your passwords safely.
Getting fiat (real money) from your Bitcoin wallet
After getting the security question settled, there’s the issue of practicality. Bitcoin is great in theory, but can you pay for your groceries with it? Or your rent, for that matter, or your restaurant bill? Bitcoin is only as reliable as the means with it can be converted to US dollars or euros or whatever currency you need—anytime, anywhere.
The most obvious option is via debit cards. There are a few online services that allow you to open a bitcoin wallet (remember, do not deposit all of your bitcoin on these wallets) and receive a real debit card connected to it. This will allow you to access the funds in your wallet. The service I’m using right now is called CryptoPay, which I like the best so far. CryptoPay connects my Trezor hardware wallet with a physical debit card. Once you’ve verified your identity, the service places no limits on your activity, meaning you can charge the card as many times as you want with as much money as you need.
Putting money into your bitcoin wallet
But how do you put money in your wallet in the first place? I work for a US company, and every month I receive my paycheck in USD (which eventually are converted to EUR from my bank). I needed a way to receive my money directly as bitcoin, preferably without asking my employer to switch to bitcoin payments. Ideally, I would just give him a new International Bank Account Number (IBAN), which would “map” to my bitcoin wallet.
There are two main services that allow you to do this, and I’m currently testing both. (I also asked for some users feedbacks on Reddit.) The services are Cashila.com and BitWage.com. My employer and I are keeping a close eye on bank transactions just to be sure payments go through smoothly. Similar in usability, they basically generate a unique set of bank coordinates along with a unique reference ID. You can then ask your employer to send your next paycheck to those coordinates—they will be automatically sent through the blockchain to your bitcoin wallet.
Cashila also allows you to make wire transfers, so if you want to pay your bills with a more traditional transfer, you can easily use your Cashila account. (Note: BitWage still does not offer this feature.) While some employers may not be initially familiar with this type of payment system, I have personally found that explaining the procedure (and why I’m doing it) can be quite persuasive. My employer and I are keeping a close eye on bank transactions going through the BitWage service just to be sure all payments go through smoothly. I think as more and more people are educated about the ways banks control our world, these types of work-around requests are going to become more and more common.
Using the aforementioned services and tools, I believe it is possible to live using bitcoin as your main form of currency. If I’m right, increasing numbers of people will never need to go to a bank again.
Of course, there are other issues that need to be resolved as far as bitcoin the service is concerned, particularly its instability. While the value does change quickly, it seems to be stabilizing—in the last three months values oscillated between $373 and $479. This might seem like a lot, but services such as CryptoPay or CoinBase can watch the markets and convert your bitcoin quickly into a more traditional currency if values start to vacillate. Once the values stabilize, you’ll get your bitcoin back. In this way, you’re not going to lose much cash at all.
I’ll check back in after a few months. In the meantime, if you still have doubts or questions, the BitCoin Reddit is a great source of information and user feedback.