When markets are shaken, as just happened in Cyprus, traditional money can become scarce, leading people to search for other ways to pay bills. The Cyprus crisis helped Bitcoin, a completely electronic currency, to reach a circulation of $1 billion. It’s now the most visible alternative currency, but it’s far from the only one. Micro-currencies have been created in many places, for many reasons. Below, a few substitutes for cold, hard cash.
Encourages people to spend in their home communities.
Created as part of an economics-class project for high-school sophomores. In 2010, €5.1 million changed hands.
Conversion: 1 Chiemgauer = €1
Introduced in: 2003
Origin: Rosenheim-Traunstein, Germany
Bills feature five local celebrities, including W.E.B. Du Bois and Robyn Van En, the creator of the CSA.
Conversion: 1 BerkShare = $.95
Introduced in: 2006
Origin: Western Massachusetts
Residents bought them as souvenirs instead of using them, driving up the price. Notes sold on eBay for as much as £35.
Conversion: 1 Lewes Pound = £1
Introduced in: 2008
Origin: Lewes, England
Allows for the exchange of goods and services when a national currency is weak or a community is depressed.
The Banco del Tiempo of Barcelona is the oldest of the nation’s time-bank systems, which have exploded to nearly 300 since the financial crisis. Users log in hours for services they have rendered and draw out hours to pay others for services performed.
Conversion: 1 hour of service = 1 hour received
Introduced in: 1998
The first community currency in the United States to use an hour system, derived from the average wage for an hour of work in the Ithaca region, in the depths of a severe recession.
Conversion: 1 hour = $10
Introduced in: 1991
Developed after the Greek financial collapse when euros became incredibly scarce and hard currency was saved to pay for major expenses.
Introduced in: 2011
Origin: Volos, Greece
Allows people to trade online-gaming earnings for real-life currency.
Traded on the LindeX, Second Life’s own exchange site, Lindens were at first part of the game—but gamers are so obsessed that they’ll pay real money for Second Life goods.
Conversion: ~270 Linden dollars = $1
Introduced in: 2003
Origin: Second Life
Amassing the gold necessary to play the game is a tedious time-suck. This has given rise to players who “gold farm,” amassing in-game money and then selling it for real money on a third-party website.
Conversion: 10,000 Gold = ~$11
Introduced in: 2004
Origin: World of Warcraft
In an attempt to cut out black-market trading, Diablo III set up an in-game auction house where players can buy and sell items from each other with both in-game gold and actual money. (And sales can be monitored.)
Conversion: 4 million gold = $1
Introduced in: 2012
Origin: Diablo III