The Oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffett, turned an initial bankroll of $10,000 into a multibillion-dollar conglomerate. Shelby Davis began with $50,000, and he amassed a $900 million fortune. These inspiring stories give us all hope that we'll be able to achieve our own financial dreams. But what if you don't have $50,000, or $10,000, or even $5,000 to get started?

Fear not, Fool -- you aren't doomed to penury and misery. You don't need a trust fund as big as Trouble's to start securing your financial future. Just follow these four simple steps:

  • Start today!
  • Invest regularly. Every month, put away $250, $100, even $50.
  • Look to the stock market for your best hope of realizing your dreams.
  • Seek undervalued small-cap stocks for your greatest returns.

Why small caps?
Small caps offer the greatest potential for market-beating returns. Institutions tend to ignore these tiny stocks, and analysts don't cover them. By the time anyone notices them, these firms have already grown and appreciated in price. To find these future giants, we'll screen for stocks with:

  • Market values less than $2.5 billion, to qualify as a small cap
  • Share prices above $5, to weed out penny stocks
  • An earnings surprise of 20% or more last quarter
  • The prospect of growing earnings at least 20% annually for the next five years, according to analysts.

We'll filter our findings through the collective investing wisdom of the more than 80,000 professional and novice investors in our Motley Fool CAPS community. If the best and brightest CAPS players think these stocks hold potential, then we ought to take notice, too.

Here are some of the stocks this simple screen found:

Company

Market Cap

Share Price

Earnings Surprise

5-Year Growth Est.

CAPS Rating

Cubist Pharmaceuticals (Nasdaq: CBST)

$1.1 billion

$19.76

23%

27%

*****

O2Micro International (Nasdaq: OIIM)

$333.8 million

$8.76

26%

25%

*****

TiVo (Nasdaq: TIVO)

$684.7 million

$6.92

36%

30%

***

Canadian Solar (Nasdaq: CSIQ)

$663.4 million

$24.31

200%

37%

**

Coldwater Creek (Nasdaq: CWTR)

$5620.7 million

$5.74

36%

24%

**

Screen results courtesy of MSN MoneyCentral; data courtesy of Reuters; CAPS ratings courtesy Motley Fool CAPS. Prices as of Jan. 8 close.

Of course, this is not a list of stocks to buy -- just a starting point for more research. We need to look more closely at these companies to see whether analysts' faith in them is well-founded. Still, we've got the CAPS community helping us here, and its favorites seem like a good place to begin.

Foolish final thoughts
Academics will tell you that individual investors have little chance of beating the stock market. They say the Warren Buffetts, Shelby Davises, and Peter Lynches of Wall Street are the exceptions to the rule. At The Motley Fool, we disagree. Stock investing is not brain surgery. Finding good, undervalued companies is not as difficult as the professionals want you to think.

It is possible to make a more comfortable retirement for yourself, even if you have little money to start with, or you're starting late in life. It is possible to turn $100 into $1 million. You just have to commit: Do it now, and do it regularly. No amount is too small. Let's get started. There's no time to lose!

Even the biggest companies started small. Join David Gardner and his team of future-focused Fools in their search for tomorrow's titans with a free 30-day trial subscription to our market-beating Motley Fool Rule Breakers newsletter.

Fool contributor Rich Duprey does not have a financial position in any of the stocks mentioned in this article. You can see his holdings here. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.