CNNMoney has posted a gallery of money tips from 40 “great minds”, ranging from Derek Jeter to Tim Ferriss to Burton Malkiel. Each participant provided an anecdote about the best piece of financial advice they ever received.

I’ve listed some of the highlights below. Remember: this is the best advice given to these people. It’s the financial advice they feel has made the biggest difference in their lives.

  • Dean Kamen, Segway inventor: “Find work in something you love and it won’t feel like work.”
  • Derek Jeter, New York Yankees shortstop: “Always know where your money is. Even if you have someone who handles your finances for you, you should be involved in the process.”
  • Whitney Tilson, manager of T2 Partners LLC: “Read all of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire-Hathaway shareholder letters. That’s all you need to know.”
  • Meir Statman, professor of finance at Santa Clara University: “Use money well, but do not waste it.” Be frugal but not stingy. Money is there to do good things.
  • Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray Love: “Borrowing money is like wetting your bed in the middle of the night. At first all you feel is warmth and release. But very, very quickly comes the awful, cold discomfort of reality.”
  • Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist: “Material stuff won’t make you happy.”
  • John Bogle, founder of The Vanguard Group: “Whoever cultivates the Golden Mean avoids both the poverty of a hovel and the envy of a palace.” In other words, seek the middle ground.
  • Olivia S. Mitchell, director for the Boettner Center for Pensions and Retirement Research: “Save your money first and get used to living on what’s left over.”
  • Steven Levitt, co-author of Freakonomics: “Don’t save too much.” Take advantage of consumption smoothing. (I’m still not sure I agree with this advice; it relies too much on predicting the future.)

Finally, Bill Nygren, manager of the Oakmark Select Fund, shared what might be my favorite story:

Back when I was in college, I remember watching Johnny Carson interview Andrew Tobias, who was giving personal financial advice. Johnny asked: “What’s the best investment for someone who has only $1,000?” Mr. Tobias said, “Nonperishable consumer staples.”

Of course, the audience roared. But Mr. Tobias was being serious and said that if you purchase nonperishables when they are on sale, the return on investment is enormous. That answer focused me on the idea that investing wasn’t only about stocks and bonds but rather was a mind-set for making sense of all of the transactions a consumer engaged in.

I’ve been trying to decide what is the best piece of personal finance I ever received. More and more, I think it’s, “Nobody cares more about your finances than you do. If you don’t take care of them, nobody’s going to take care of them for you.” It was only when I realized this that I was able to turn things around, get out of debt, and begin building wealth.

But I like “borrowing money is like wetting your bed”, too.

[CNNMoney: The smartest advice I ever got, photo by Brian Scott]

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