Warren Buffett

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You may be looking for an edge in your personal finances -- something that can help you rethink your approach to money and start getting ahead financially. If so, you might benefit from hearing what billionaires have to say and learning from their experiences. So, here are a few lessons on frugality, investing, and generosity from some of the wealthiest people in the world.

Small two-story home on quiet residential street

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1. Live simply and be frugal

Most people don't associate billionaires with penny-pinching, but that's how famed investor and billionaire Warren Buffett approaches his personal finances. Buffet bought a relatively modest house back in 1958 for just $31,000, which was around $275,000 in today's dollars, and he continues to live in it to this day. For context, the median home price in July of this year was $313,700.

Buffett has summarized his views on success and happiness like this:

Success is really doing what you love and doing it well. It's as simple as that. Really getting to do what you love to do everyday -- that's really the ultimate luxury ... your standard of living is not equal to your cost of living.

Buffett also holds on to his vehicles for a long time, as does Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton. And IKEA founder and billionaire Ingvar Kamprad once shared why having lots of money doesn't mean you should indulge yourself to no end:

I'm a bit tight with money, but so what? I look at the money I'm about to spend on myself and ask myself if IKEA's customers can afford it.... I could regularly travel first class, but having money in abundance doesn't seem like a good reason to waste it.

man in business suit looking through telescope toward horizon

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2. Have a long-term investing strategy

There's no better way to build up your wealth than let your money earn even more money for you by investing in stocks or index funds. John Bogle, the founder of The Vanguard Group and the creator of index mutual funds, says many things will try to distract you from your long-term goals, but you have to stay the course: "Do not let false hope, fear and greed crowd out good investment judgment. If you focus on the long term and stick with your plan, success should be yours." 

Bogle's words aren't puffery, either. The index funds offered by his company are some of the easiest ways to build long-term wealth because of their historic 10% annual returns and low expense ratios.

glass jar full of cois with donate written on it

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3. Be generous

Microsoft founder and billionaire Bill Gates is well known for his philanthropic work, and his views on being generous can inspire all of us to support causes we believe in, no matter what our income levels.

"My wife and I had a long dialogue about how we were going to take the wealth that we're lucky enough to have and give it back in a way that's most impactful to the world," Gates told The Telegraph three years ago.

When it comes to his fortune, Gates has said, "Its utility is entirely in building an organization and getting the resources out to the poorest in the world."

The good news is that the United States is already one of the most generous countries in the world, according to the Charities Aid Foundation World Giving Index report from last year. And according to Giving USA's annual report about philanthropy in America, individual charitable donations increased last year by 2.6% (adjusted for inflation) to $281.8 billion. 

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4. Pay down your debt, especially credit cards

Before he became a billionaire, the outspoken owner of the Dallas Mavericks, Mark Cuban, said there was one thing he wishes he had known about personal finance when he was in his 20s:

That credit cards are the worst investment that you can make. That the money I save on interest by not having debt is better than any return I could possibly get by investing that money in the stock market. I thought I would be a stock market genius. Until I wasn't. I should have paid off my cards every 30 days. 

Unfortunately, Americans are racking up more debt than ever before. The Federal Reserve says that Americans now have over $1 trillion in outstanding revolving credit, which tops the previous record set back in April 2008. 

Be smart with your money

It's easy to skim through a list like this and assume that just because the people mentioned above are billionaires, their ideas aren't applicable to our own personal finances. But these simple, straightforward approaches to spending, investing, and giving are all practical ideas that any of us can put to use now.

Teresa Kersten is an employee of LinkedIn and is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. LinkedIn is owned by Microsoft. Chris Neiger has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.