When it comes to investing, I'm a contrarian at heart. I'm also a cheapskate, generally more interested in stocks trading at low multiples than those whose forecasted earnings-growth estimates have shot their P/E ratios to infinity and beyond.

Don't get me wrong: If you're the Buzz Lightyear type, you should certainly check out the likes of Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), Las Vegas Sands (NYSE:LVS), Schering-Plough (NYSE:SGP), or DirecTV (NYSE:DTV). Each of those companies sports a five-year earnings-growth forecast near 20% -- and a P/E ratio that leaves the broader market's looking anemic.

Deep discounts
If, however, you're mainly an investor of the value persuasion, here's good news: The likes of AmeriCredit (NYSE:ACF), US Bancorp (NYSE:USB), and American International Group (NYSE:AIG) -- long-haul overachievers all -- are currently on sale, trading with P/Es below that of the S&P 500 and their own five-year averages.

Thing is, while that kind of valuation-to-quality profile packs loads of appeal at first glance, there's usually more to multiples than meets the eye. Sometimes, even stocks that seem like stalwarts trade at depressed levels because, well, they're depressed.

Get happy!
Sometimes they don't, of course. Fortunately, you don't have to be a financial pro to make big bucks by taking advantage of market inefficiencies. But even for non-experts, that can be a full-time job on its own, so it's a good thing that some other smart folks out there already do it for a living -- successfully.

I'm talking about world-class money managers, the savvy types who run low-cost funds with battle-tested strategies, and who have delivered solid performance for investors year after year. These managers, not coincidentally, generally "eat their own cooking," aligning their interests with shareholders' by investing their own moola in the funds they run.

When it comes to mutual fund "data points," few will tell you more than that one.

And sleep well
Despite what you may have heard, you can indeed beat the market while sleeping peacefully at night, with help from world-class mutual funds. The secret is to focus like a laser beam on key criteria such as costs, historical performance during the current managers' tenure, and whether those managers put their money where their mouth is, so to speak.

These are precisely the kind of funds we seek out for members of the Fool's Champion Funds investing service. As an example, one of our picks recently included all the aforementioned value plays in its portfolio (and eBay, too). Between 2000 and 2002 -- a period that saw the S&P shed some 37.6% of its value -- this fund racked up a gain of more than 50%. Talk about investing with a safety net!

And speaking of safety nets, despite the market's recent slide, all but four of our recommendations are in the black. As a group, they've beaten the market by a double-digit margin.

You're welcome to give the service a spin, free of charge, and see whether you can't put it to good use. I suspect it'll come in handy as you seek to fund (pun definitely intended) your financial future.

This article was originally published on Dec. 12, 2006. It has been updated.

Shannon Zimmerman runs point on the Fool's Champion Funds newsletter service, and at the time of publication, he didn't own any of the securities mentioned above. eBay is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick. US Bancorp is an Income Investor choice. You can check out the Fool's strict disclosure policy by clicking right here.