Have you ever run across the following? "If you had invested $10,000 into company XYZ back then, you would have X today," where X is always a large number like $500,000 or $1 million. I don't know about you, but whenever I see a statement like that, I always get depressed. Why? Let me lay it out in clear, unambiguous language.

I don't have $10,000 to invest at one time!

Really. Like a lot of you, I make a modest salary, pay my bills, and try to save for the future. I manage to save a few hundred dollars each month and think I'm getting ahead. Then I read a statement like the one above and think that I'll never make it.

So what to do?
Maybe you're in the same position, able to save what seems like just a little bit each month. Is it worth investing that little bit? You tell me. A friend of mine turned a measly $220 investment in SYSCO (NYSE:SYY) into $57,000. Granted, it took him 27 years, but what a result. On average, he got just less than 23% per year by investing in the food distribution giant.

Back when my friend made that investment, he paid a very large commission, both because he bought a few shares rather than a 100-share "round lot" and because brokers charged a lot at the time. Paying such large commissions back then tended to keep small investors, ones like you or me with only a few hundred dollars to invest at a time, locked out. Today, though, discount brokers such as TDAmeritrade or Scottrade will charge you less than $10 per trade and no longer charge extra for buying less than a round lot.

Many brokers also provide other features that make the present a better time for small investors to get started in the market than ever before. First, several no longer charge a "maintenance" fee for not having a high balance in the account. Second, many have direct deposit plans, letting you put a portion of your paycheck directly into your account every time you get paid, automatically. Out of sight, out of mind. Without ever "seeing" that money at home, the savings don't require any effort on your part. To see what different brokers have to offer, check out our Broker Center.

It doesn't take much
Instead of the $10,000 mentioned above, let's see what a small investment in a few different companies would have done. Just $500 in coffee giant Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX) 10 years ago would be worth $2,650 today -- a healthy annual return of 18.1%, even after its more than 20% decline this year. A similar-sized investment in Intuit (NASDAQ:INTU), the maker of popular financial software Quicken and TurboTax, would be worth some $3,330 today, returning a superior 20.9% per year. Greater than 25% annual returns would have been the result from 10-year investments in gaming company Station Casinos (NYSE:STN) and retailer Urban Outfitters (NASDAQ:URBN), turning that starting $500 into $9,150 and $4,710, respectively.

That's the way to riches, starting with just a few hundred dollars. Anyone can do that. All it takes is a small bit of money and some time. If you're in school, now's the time to start. If you've been working for a few years, even many years, now's the time to start. If you've just retired, given the longer life expectancies today, it certainly can't hurt to start.

"Thank you, sir! May I have another?"
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This article was originally published on Feb. 27, 2007. It has been updated.

Fool contributor Jim Mueller lives in Indianapolis and roots for the Colts. He owns shares of SYSCO and Starbucks. SYSCO is a Motley Fool Income Investor pick. Starbucks is a Stock Advisor recommendation. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.