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).
  • 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:


Market Cap

Share Price

EPS Surprise

Median Analyst 5-Year EPS Estimate

CAPS Rating (out of 5)

AeroVironment (NASDAQ:AVAV)

$624.1 million





Boise (NYSE:BZ)

$445.8 million





Calgon Carbon (NYSE:CCC)

$792.0 million





Endurance Specialty (NYSE:ENH)

$2.1 billion





Genoptix (NASDAQ:GXDX)

$647.8 million





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 whether analysts' faith in them is well-founded, but we have the CAPS community helping us here, and starting with their favorites would be a good place to begin.

Calgon, take me away!
OK, Calgon Carbon isn't the same company that makes the body wash that uses that iconic advertising catchphrase, but it does make products that will scrub our environment clean. Activated carbon, Calgon Carbon's primary segment, accounts for 86% of revenues and has industrial uses ranging from water purification and flue gas emissions control to gold and silver extraction and various medical applications.

Last quarter, segment sales rose by more than 10% to $95 million as potable water treatment in Asia and removal of mercury from coal-fired power plants drove revenues higher. This all happened even as the company faces competition from Meadwestvaco (NYSE:MWV) and a division of Siemens (NYSE:SI), as well as various Chinese companies.

Highly rated CAPS All-Star member reaper85 sees a variety of environmentally friendly applications pushing Calgon higher: "Too many "green" initiatives out there for them to miss the boat. They should show solid growth for 5+ years."

The CAPS community seems to agree, as 94% of the members rating Calgon believe it will outperform the market. Head over to Calgon Carbon's CAPS page, and give your opinion on its potential for success a good scrubbing. 

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!

AeroVironment is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers pick. Endurance Specialty Holdings is a Motley Fool Inside Value selection. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Rich Duprey has no financial position in any of the stocks mentioned in this article. You can see his holdings. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.