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?
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).
  • 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 145,000 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-Year EPS Estimate

CAPS Rating
(out of 5)

Canadian Solar (NASDAQ:CSIQ)

$918.1 million

$25.67

33%

22%

***

Clean Energy Fuels (NASDAQ:CLNE)

$833.4 million

$13.95

58%

25%

****

EnerNOC (NASDAQ:ENOC)

$698.1 million

$29.11

51%

25%

**

Fuqi International (NASDAQ:FUQI)

$524.9 million

$19.00

62%

28%

****

LivePerson (NASDAQ:LPSN)

$318.2 million

$6.56

25%

25%

***

Source: Zacks.com.

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 starting with their favorites would be a good idea.

A brighter future?
The building of compressed and liquefied natural gas fueling stations is about to accelerate. Until now, Clean Energy Fuels has been slowly populating the nation with a network of some 195 stations serving 17,500 vehicles. Yet bringing natural gas-powered vehicles to the mainstream stands to gain a bigger foothold now that ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM) has agreed to purchase natural gas player XTO Energy (NYSE:XTO). The move could help bolster Clean Energy's efforts to bring natural gas to a broader audience.

To date, Clean Energy has primarily focused on the commercial markets, particularly waste haulers, transit, trucking, airports, and municipal fleets.

While CAPS member retireddelfool sees Clean Energy still growing from servicing the commercial side of things, B1ll1am thinks that Exxon's purchase means the time is right for natural gas's ascendancy:

XOM bought XTO and the market punished the stock. LNG is the next big focus as natural gas is plentiful in the USA, clean burning, and economical to produce. Being that natural gas was around $14 and is now only around $6, XOM bought XTO at a discount. Great buy for XOM.

Use the comments section below to let us know if you consider natural gas the next big thing in vehicle fuels, or head over to Clean Energy Fuel'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!

The Fool owns shares of XTO Energy. 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. The Fool has a disclosure policy.