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:

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

Why small caps?
Because 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)
  • 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:


Market Cap

Share Price

EPS Surprise

Median Analyst 5-Year EPS Est.

CAPS Rating

Continental Airlines (NYSE:CAL)

$2.2 billion






$770.0 million






$1.1 billion





Varian Semiconductor (NASDAQ:VSEA)

$2.4 billion





Vistaprint (NASDAQ:VPRT)

$2.5 billion





Source: NC = not calculable, LDK Solar reported EPS of $0.27 vs. ($0.08) est.

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

A brighter future?
With JA Solar having surprised Wall Street with a better-than-expected earnings report, analysts were quickly moving to upgrade the solar cell specialist. But maybe they were moving too fast. After all, management anticipates order volume falling after having surged for the past few months, and average selling prices are declining even though demand supposedly far outstrips supply. If Germany follows through on proposals to cut its subsidies, we may see demand shrivel again as happened after Spain slashed its program.

Being conservative is prudent for management, but raises the risk profile for investors. With some solar names like Trina Solar (NYSE:TSL) and Canadian Solar (NASDAQ:CSIQ) increasing their own cell capacity, JA Solar might find itself pressured even more. Without a doubt the solar cell specialist has been able to confound the experts, and CAPS members like kodiakcowboy believe its position as a low-cost provider will allow it to continue to do so:

The cost of silicon has dropped dramatically which reflects the profits of the solar industry. JASO has positioned themselves to benefit dramatically from the lower pricing because of their efficiencies, partners, China subsidies, and new technology. They can mass produce their products, which will result in strong profits in the near future.

Use the comments section below to let us know if you consider this solar expert to continue being a ray of sunshine in the future, or head over to JA Solar's CAPS page and tell us your scorching ideas for success. 

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 don't agree. 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!

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.