Where the stock market will be tomorrow, next week, or even next year is anyone's guess, but considering the enormous size of the global financial markets and all of their moving parts -- including the new ones coming out of Washington -- such prognostication is about as futile as trying to boil the ocean.

What is apparent, however, is that there are some darn fine American companies trading at valuations unseen in a long time. If you've already paid off high-interest credit cards and have put away a few months' expenses in a federally insured savings account, now is the time to put your money to work in U.S. stocks.

This isn't to say you should invest all of your cash right now, or that the market couldn't fall further in the short run, so a good strategy in today's market is to invest slowly and methodically into undervalued companies without getting dragged down by commissions. Fortunately, there's a way to do just that -- through a Dividend Reinvestment Plan, or DRIP.

In a DRIP arrangement, companies allow you to directly buy their shares with as little as $50 to $100 each month after you've made a small initial purchase. Thereafter, you can continue to buy as little or as much as you want -- in many cases without having to pay brokerage commissions. Plus, if the company pays a dividend, the plan can automatically reinvest them for more shares in the company, most of the time free of charge.

For patient, long-term investors who care little for daily market movements and want to invest new money bit by bit, it doesn't get much better than a DRIP.

What's the catch?
Despite all of the great benefits of DRIPs, there are a few drawbacks. While the majority of DRIPs allow you to make your initial stock purchase through the plan itself (typically called a "direct purchase plan" or DPP), others may require you to first purchase the shares through a broker and then have the shares' registration transferred into your name. It can get especially confusing if you're doing this with more than one stock at a time. Each DRIP has different terms and conditions, so please be sure to read them all before investing.

Second, because you're not paying a broker to administer your investment records, the onus of recordkeeping is on you. Each successive investment and dividend reinvestment in a DRIP affects your cost basis, so if you don't like math or aren't very organized, a DRIP may not be for you. What's more, if you have more than one DRIP, that could mean multiple statements and tax forms -- but that's nothing a binder and a three-hole punch can't fix.

Now, the stock ideas I promised
Not all publicly traded companies offer DRIPs, but according to DRIPInvestor.com, more than 1,100 companies offer some form of the plan, so we're not talking about a small opportunity here. In fact, each of the seven great American stocks I mentioned in the title can be directly purchased through a company-sponsored DRIP.

These seven stocks not only trade for less than 12 times free cash flow but also post a return on equity of more than 15%.


Minimum Initial Investment for DPP/DRIP

Price-to-Free Cash Flow

Return on Equity

Dividend Yield

Altria (NYSE:MO)





United Parcel Service (NYSE:UPS)





Waste Management (NYSE:WMI)





United Technologies (NYSE:UTX)





Medtronic (NYSE:MDT)





Texas Instruments (NYSE:TXN)





Emerson Electric (NYSE:EMR)





*Source: Company websites and Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's.

The already beaten-down market could trend lower in the short term, so I wouldn't recommend buying any of these stocks all at once. But at today's valuations, they're definitely worth considering for an initial investment through a DRIP. Once you're enrolled in the plan, you can then add small amounts each month if you decide to, without making a large bet on the current prices.

Foolish bottom line
The market plunge of the past 12 months has left many great American companies trading at valuations unseen in years and, in some cases, over a decade. Yet the severity of the market's volatility has left investors understandably a bit gun-shy. Fortunately, dividend reinvestment plans can provide you with a great opportunity to slowly and methodically accumulate shares of solid, undervalued companies at little or no cost.

If you'd like to get some more stock ideas to consider for a DRIP, consider a 30-day free trial of our Motley Fool Income Investor service, where advisor James Early looks for the best dividend stocks on the market. Not all of their picks have DRIP options, but five of their six "buy first" stocks can be purchased with a DRIP. To check out those picks, start your free trial by clicking here. There's no obligation to subscribe.

Todd Wenning would like to take this moment to salute America's law enforcement officers. He doesn't own shares of any companies mentioned. Waste Management and United Parcel Service are Motley Fool Income Investor selections. Waste Management is also an Inside Value recommendation. The Fool's disclosure policy is bad to the bone.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.