There's no such thing as a lucky investor. "Luck" applies to speculators, roulette players, and Charlize Theron's boyfriend. An investor prepares and, when his preparation meets with opportunity, he becomes what others call "lucky."

Now is an excellent time for preparation. The market had a huge run in 2003 and, despite the recent pullback, opportunity for value investments is scarce. Instead of scouring a difficult market for places to put your money, why not keep your powder dry and research the great companies you wish you owned but can't justify at the current price? In other words, prepare a "wish list" of stocks and determine the price at which you would buy them.

Here are a few on my list:

Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX) is a well-managed powerhouse with a killer brand in the U.S. and lots of room to grow internationally. Plus, it serves an addictive product (count me as a happily hooked espresso addict). The stock's earnings per share (EPS) has grown an annual average of 25% over the past five years, and Street analysts expect at least that over the next two. At $37 a share, Starbucks trades at an overly caffeinated 35 times 2005 earnings, but if the price dropped near $25 (giving it a PEG ratio of less than 1 based on 2005 earnings), I'd order a double shot.

I also want to own Home Depot (NYSE:HD). Americans have an insatiable appetite for home improvement and the tools of the trade. Home Depot's customer service, though spotty in the last couple of years, serves as a part-time apprentice school. Even a buffoon like me can go in there and learn how to change a lightbulb. It's a well-managed company that essentially operates in a duopoly with Lowe's (NYSE:LOW). The Big Orange will see significant growth from installation services and other new sales initiatives over the next few years, and I'd like it at $26 a share, which would anchor its PEG at a cool 0.75.

I almost left Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) off the list. There's an old saying in business: Pigs get fed, hogs get slaughtered. Wal-Mart's wild success and hard-nosed business tactics are making the company seem less like a pleasant pig and more like a gluttonous hog in the public consciousness. I'm worried that government, unions, and even mom and pop may take up figurative arms against the mega retailer.

But I just can't resist. I want Wal-Mart in my portfolio. It's a well-oiled machine that's delivered outsized returns to investors for several decades. You're talking about the biggest and best retail company in the world, and it hasn't even broken the seal on China yet. Give it to me at the low, low price of $46 a share.

Diet fads come and go, but Whole Foods Market (NASDAQ:WFMI) will always be there, serving up high-margin "healthy" groceries to those (and there are many) willing to pay for it. I love its market position -- the trendy grocer sits comfortably above the bare-knuckle supermarket rumble, occupying (it bears repeating) a high-margin, natural-foods niche of its own.

Whole Foods is executing better than ever -- finding ways to increase comparable-store sales while ramping productivity at newly opened stores. Also, while other supermarkets deal with labor issues, it conducts an ongoing love affair with its employees.

Earnings have grown for this crunchy Birken stock at a 17% rate over the last five years. It'll do slightly better than that for the next two. Unfortunately, it's way out of any sane person's price range at $76 a share. If it ever drops under $50, I'll make an organic feast of it.

OK, I already own a little Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN), but I want more! The company has ever-growing mindshare, silky smooth ease of use, and killer customer service. When I say "online retailer," who do you think of? Right. And who is its closest competitor? Enough said.

The stock's been hit lately because Amazon says it will pass some of its margin power on to consumers. To me, that's not a strategy investors should punish -- it's a nice move to combat cellar-dwelling, would-be competitors and grow market share in various product lines. Besides, it's easily reversible if and when the company deems it advisable. I like a company with that kind of control of its numbers.

Barron's challenged Amazon's valuation in a March 22 article, and rightfully so. But while its economic analysis was sound, Barron's failed to mention the stock's upside potential as, for example, Amazon spreads its wings overseas. Bottom line: It's a great and growing company -- count me (again) in at $26 a share.

I'm a decade late and a few thousand short on FedEx (NYSE:FDX), but a man can dream, can't he? I want it bad, real bad, but I'm not gonna get it unless the sky falls, especially after the knockout quarter it just delivered.

FedEx is one of the great stories in American capitalism (in fact, all of these stocks are). Fred Smith conceived the company in a student essay that (1) posited that profitable overnight shipping was possible, and (2) proved conclusively, via the poor grade the essay received, that academia is irretrievably detached from reality.

FedEx's motto is "The World On Time." It should be the "The World Online" -- as access to the world's goods moves online more and more, we need someone to deliver them and, like the ad says, "You gotta use FedEx." OK, so there's United Parcel Service (NYSE:UPS) and (try not to laugh) the U.S. Postal Service. But riddle me this: Which of these three carriers just improved its express-shipping margins 56% year over year, will earn one-third more per share than UPS in its next fiscal year, and is not owned by the U.S. government? (Hint: It rhymes with "Fred X.")

If the stock ever falls to $57, my long national nightmare will be over -- I'll finally be a FedEx shareholder.

All these stocks are pretty straightforward, well-known stories. That's what I like about them. They are businesses I personally frequent and understand. If I can get into proven companies whose stories I understand and do so at a comfortable price, why bother shopping in the riskier neighborhoods of the stock market?

I know, I know. You don't believe prices will ever get to my wish-list levels. But no one can predict the market's future and, besides, within the last 12 to 24 months, they all traded below my target levels, most of them by a large margin. Had I been ready then with my wish list, I'd be writing this from my yacht in Barbados rather than from my refrigerator-like (in temperature and style) basement office.

Next time, if there is a next time, I'll be prepared to capitalize on the opportunity of great stocks trading below their true value. It may just make me a "lucky" investor.

Now what?
Tom Gardner keeps a running watch list of Hidden Gems in his small-cap newsletter. Find out what companies he thinks are poised for big returns with a free trial.

Fool contributor Ted Rogers is a writer from Virginia. He owns shares of Amazon. You can send him wild applause, Bronx cheers, and non-virus-infected emails. The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.