The saying "it takes money to make money" doesn't always apply when it comes to investing. Small amounts of money invested over time can add up to a lifetime of wealth to see you through your retirement.

That's why a $500 grubstake can be an excellent way to start a portfolio or further add to an existing one. Three contributors like the growth stocks The Buckle (BKE -1.80%), Zynga (ZNGA), and Petco Health & Wellness (WOOF -3.63%) as places to put that money to work today.

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A quality retailer in sickness and in health

Eric Volkman (The Buckle): The retail industry will continue to be a recovery story as we (hopefully) start to put the coronavirus pandemic behind us. There are numerous good stocks in the sector to choose from, but let me introduce you to one that tops my list, clothing purveyor The Buckle.

For those of you who don't follow mass fashion, this isn't as familiar a name as, say, The Gap or American Eagle Outfitters. The Buckle occupies a niche in clothing retail; in the company's words, it's "a leading retailer of medium to better–priced casual apparel, footwear, and accessories for fashion–conscious young men and women." 

This business model has proved to be durable; for proof, look at The Buckle's fiscal 2020 performance. Even in that pandemic-stricken year, the company posted a bottom-line loss in only a single quarter. That was its Q1, which ended at the start of May, and was marked by significant store closures due to COVID-19. And compared to many retail industry peers, the damage wasn't severe, with a net loss just shy of $12 million.

But man, was The Buckle quick to patch that bottom-line hole. The remaining fiscal 2020 quarters saw the company come roaring back as its stores reopened. The quarters subsequent to Q1 saw healthy sales increases and dramatic bottom-line improvements. Across the three periods The Buckle netted a respective $34.7 million, $41.6 million, and $65.6 million in profit. 

So once the coronavirus shackles are thrown off our economy (again, hopefully) for good, we can imagine how The Buckle might zoom ahead.

These days many people are still confining themselves to their homes to some degree, and when it's safer to go out in public and congregate, they'll want to look good. Fashion will be an important part of this effort, especially for the relatively more quality-conscious young shoppers who frequent The Buckle.

Meanwhile, as many investors have grown impatient for the coronavirus to recede and their companies to bounce back, The Buckle's share price is down roughly 16% from its year-to-date peak. This presents a fine opportunity to own a standout retailer at a relative discount.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention -- in addition to being an attractive growth stock, The Buckle is also a steady and reliable dividend payer. After several years of holding its quarterly payout at the same level, the company raised it by 20% late last year, following this with another bump of 10% in April 2021. The $0.33 per share quarterly distribution now yields 3.2%, a very high rate for a retail stock.

What's more, the company habitually pays an end-of-the year special dividend. The one declared in 2020 -- again, a year dominated by the deleterious effects of the coronavirus -- was $2 per share.

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Take advantage of an attractive valuation

Keith Noonan (Zynga): The market is down on Zynga, and investors should take advantage of recent sell-offs before sentiment once again shifts. There are some good reasons behind the recent pullback on the stock, but the company is still a category leader that looks poised to deliver strong performance over the long term. 

The mobile video game publisher's second-quarter results arrived in August with a 3% reduction for the company's full-year bookings target, and investors swiftly punished the stock. Changes being made by Alphabet and Apple in user privacy and digital advertising settings have also likely closed down some growth opportunities in the in-game advertising space -- and also recast some of Zynga's recent acquisitions in less favorable light.

The company's share price is now down roughly 26% year to date and 41% from its 52-week high, and the stock is cheap -- trading at just 20 times this year's expected earnings and 2.9 times expected sales. The company now has a market capitalization of roughly $8 billion, and it closed out the last quarter with $1.5 billion in cash and short-term investments. With the company sitting on a sizable cash position and posting strong operating cash flow, Zynga is in good shape to fund internal development initiatives and continue making acquisitions that will strengthen its place in the industry.

Video games command extremely high levels of engagement compared to other entertainment mediums, and the long-term demand outlook for interactive content remains very favorable. Zynga has admittedly suffered some setbacks recently, but its core business continues to look very strong, and the company should be able to capitalize on the expanding worldwide audience for its games, the growth of the global middle class, and other tailwinds. 

There's very little optimism priced into the company's valuation, but that could change in short order. An exciting new acquisition or game reveal could help the stock quickly regain some ground, and long-term investors stand a good chance of enjoying impressive performance from shares purchased at current prices. 

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Barking up the right tree

Rich Duprey (Petco Health & Wellness): Pet ownership has steadily increased at a reliable 1% annual growth rate for the last 20 years until the pandemic struck, when 11 million Americans decided to buy a pet for the first time. The number of U.S. households with a pet grew from 67% in 2019 to 70% last year (and up from 56% in 1988 when the American Pet Products Association first began conducting the survey).

That spells enormous potential for Petco Health & Wellness. Last year Americans spent over $100 billion on their pets for the first time ever, mostly on pet food (40%), but also on vet care (30%) and supplies (21%). Petco is addressing each of those markets.

Petco says it is the No. 1 pet specialty retailer in the fresh and frozen food category, and its Just Food for Dogs kitchens and pantries are now in 468 pet care centers. It expects to end the year with roughly 700 locations.

It has 155 in-store veterinary hospitals and 1,100 Petco clinics, and is enjoying better than 50% growth in the $11 billion prescription drug and food market. It's even begun offering pet insurance through employee healthcare programs, and now has 22 businesses on board, including and Cognizant Technology Solutions.

Of course the real opportunity for investors comes not just from there being more pets for owners to spend their money on, but rather from more money per owner being spent. Because of the humanization of our furry friends, we're willing to spend up on them, providing care and services previously reserved just for humans. 

Wall Street likes the potential as well, expecting revenue to grow on a compounded basis over 10% annually for the next five years, hitting $7.3 billion in 2026. The earnings picture is even better, with analysts estimating Petco will expand profits almost 45% a year for the next five years.

While shares of the pet care giant trade 20% above their January IPO offering price, they are down 29% from the highs they hit immediately after the stock began trading. That means this is a great growth opportunity for investors, even if they don't have a whole lot of money to put into the market.