You don't need the investing acumen of Warren Buffett or the riches of a trust fund baby to achieve financial success.

Since the stock market is your best hope for realizing your dreams, start investing today, by putting away small sums of money every month. Then seek out undervalued small-cap stocks for your greatest returns. I like these stocks because they offer opportunities for growth, while still being mostly overlooked by the big investors.

To find these future giants, we'll screen for stocks with market values less than $3 billion, an earnings surprise of 15% or more in the previous quarter, and forecasts for long-term earnings growth potential of at least 15%. We'll filter our findings through the collective investing wisdom of the 170,000 members in our Motley Fool CAPS community. If the best and brightest CAPS players think these stocks hold potential, we ought to take notice, too.

Here are some of the stocks this simple screen found:

Company

Market Cap

EPS Surprise

Avg. Analyst 5-Year EPS Est.

CAPS Rating
(out of 5)

Smart Technologies (Nasdaq: SMT) $1.2 billion $0.33 vs. $0.24 41% ***
St. Joe (NYSE: JOE) $2.0 billion ($0.06) vs. ($0.09) 15% *
Wendy's/Arby's (NYSE: WEN) $2.0 billion $0.05 vs. $0.04 16% **


Source: Yahoo.com and Motley Fool CAPS.

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, since the CAPS community's helping us out, their favorite selections might be a good place to begin.

An alternative opportunity
Is it smart to buy shares of digital whiteboard maker Smart Technologies, which went public in July in what was then the year's largest IPO on the Nasdaq exchange? Despite the fanfare, the stock has tumbled ever since as sales were hurt by a slowdown in business. Shares now trade for 43% less than their IPO price.

Naturally, the trial lawyers have moved in, alleging the company did not tell investors about the slowdown in its prospectus. They also point to insiders as having sold $500 million worth of stock at the IPO.

The Fool often cautions against investing in IPOs because they typically provide poor performance initially. Yet an international asset management firm has taken a big stake in Smart, almost 20%, which is up from just over 11% back in September. Perhaps the firm believes the company's whiteboards are set to take off. Tech Data (Nasdaq: TECD), which distributes whiteboards for 3M, Panasonic, and Hitachi, saw profit increase 17% in the third quarter and Fitch Ratings expects enterprise level tech spending to recover.

Smart Technologies generates most of its sales from education, but that's just fine by CAPS member mattwix, who thinks that will be a growth market: "In 5-10 years, smartboards will be in nearly every classroom...and that's just public education. There are no real competitors and they have a strong global presence."

I'll drink to that
Despite Florida being one of the last place you'd want to own real estate right now, Florida real estate developer St. Joe has been on a tear recently as rumors of a buyout or the company being taken private have made the rounds. Investing legend Bruce Berkowitz of the Fairholme Fund (FAIRX) has made a large bet on St. Joe, and recently got appointed to the board of directors, which helped fuel the speculation.

But CAPS All-Star tad40 is siding with hedge fund operator and noted short-seller David Einhorn on this one. Einhorn says St. Joe is dead because "It can't build, it can't sell, and it can't generate value to cover the operating costs." Of course, Berkowitz has responded by saying he'd buy the whole company if he could.

You can build your own case on the St. Joe CAPS page by telling us whether you think the odds are in its favor.

Man the ramparts
McDonald's
(NYSE: MCD) may have disappointed the market when November same-store sales rose only 4.8%, below analyst expectations, but it seems to be more of a fast-food industry phenomenon than one centered on the burger chain. Wendy's/Arby's saw quarterly comps fall almost 2% and Jack-in-the-Box reported disappointing profit.

Maybe as the economy improves, the dollar menu isn't as appetizing, which could explain the success more upmarket brands Panera Bread (Nasdaq: PNRA) and Chipotle Mexican Grill (NYSE: CMG) have found. Fast casual may be replacing fast food as the meal of choice.

CAPS All-Star Drew2142 says all Wendy's or Arby's needs is a bit of a facelift and they could be speeding through the drive-thru again:

All these two places need, are face-lifts, a good old-fashioned cleaning.... and expense management/cost-cutting help (let's face it, Arby's is expensive) Both store chains are gross. Clean them, update them, cut expenses, and they will come. If they don't come, they could be a target for companies like [Biglari Holdings]. Biglari has a knack for turning over-priced dirty chains with good food into money making machines. Cut the expenses... and clean the places up for crying out loud.

You can add Wendy's/Arby's to the Fool's free portfolio tracker to keep an eye on what other signals it's sending.

Foolish final thoughts
Stock investing is not brain surgery. Finding good, undervalued companies is not as difficult as the professionals want you to think. You just have to commit to starting now, and do so regularly. Now's the time to begin!

3M is a Motley Fool Inside Value selection. Chipotle is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendation. Panera Bread is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick. Chipotle is a Motley Fool Hidden Gems choice. The Fool owns shares of Chipotle and Jack in the Box. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. 

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