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 to be a trust fund baby 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?
They 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 realizes they're there, they've already grown and appreciated in price.

To find these future giants, we'll screen for stocks with:

  • Market values less than $3 billion, to qualify as a small cap (but no micro caps).
  • An earnings surprise of 20% or more last quarter.
  • Long-term earnings growth potential of at least 20%.

We'll filter our findings through the collective investing wisdom of the more than 140,000 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

EPS Surprise

Median Analyst 5-Yr EPS Est.

CAPS Rating

BioMarin Pharmaceutical (NASDAQ:BMRN)

$1.7 billion

$16.57

200%

33%

****

China Fire & Security Group (NASDAQ:CFSG)

$504.1 million

$18.69

25%

25%

****

Deckers Outdoor (NASDAQ:DECK)

$1.2 billion

$90.49

389%

22%

**

Quicksilver Resources (NYSE:KWK)

$2.7 billion

$16.18

33%

22%

*****

UAL (NASDAQ:UAUA)

$1.1 billion

$7.90

119%

24%

*

Source: Earnings.com; Zacks.

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. But at least we've got the CAPS community helping us here; their favorites from this list might give us a good starting point.

Still grounded
As goes Caterpillar (NYSE:CAT), so goes United Airlines? That's what UAL CEO Glenn Tilton would have you believe, and it's the foundation of the airline's belief that business travel will bounce back.

The airline executive said that Caterpillar represented a barometer of sorts: The heavy equipment maker's confidence about improving economic prospects supposedly indicates that more people will return to the skies. Particularly when they're flying from China.

The Asian Development Bank is forecasting 8% growth in China. Although United sees itself as a play on the U.S., it's finding that many of its passengers are Chinese citizens flying to the United States for business or education. As China continues to expand, and disposable income grows, United expects to benefit. And although the Air Transport Association says that passenger revenue for U.S. airlines fell 19% year over year across the industry, both UAL and Southwest Airlines (NYSE:LUV) believe that trend is reversing.

However, highly rated CAPS All-Star mixamajic isn't buying the notion that UAL can improve its position, even if business travel resumes:

"United Airlines parent UAL Corp. reported a money-losing third quarter on Tuesday but said it is beginning to see signs that business travel could pick up soon." Current liabilities are $7.1 bil. Current Assets are $4.8 bil. Where is this company going to come up with $2.3 billion in the next year? Operations? No, per this report [UAL] is still losing money. Fools, I would love to hear the flip side on this one since some analysts are now rating this a buy.

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 are the exceptions to the rule. We at The Motley Fool 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 are 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!

BioMarin Pharmaceutical is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers selection. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services today, free for 30 days.

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.