I must confess: I'm a contrarian at heart. I'm also a cheapskate.

Don't get me wrong -- this doesn't mean that my wife will be stiffed on Valentine's Day. I mean that I prefer stocks trading at low multiples to those with earnings growth estimates that have catapulted investor expectations to infinity and beyond.

Don't be misled: If you're the Buzz Lightyear type, you should certainly check out Rio Tinto (NYSE: RTP) and Schlumberger (NYSE: SLB). Each has a five-year earnings growth forecast of 15% or higher -- and a forward price-to-earnings ratio (P/E) that surpasses the broader market's average. MGM Mirage (NYSE: MGM) and Monsanto (NYSE: MON) make that cut, too.

Deep discounts
If, however, you're an investor of the value persuasion, here's some good news: Companies such as Johnson & Johnson, Nokia (NYSE: NOK), and Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ) are currently bargains, trading with forward P/Es below that of both the S&P 500 and their own five-year averages.

While that kind of valuation-to-quality profile is alluring 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!
Other times, of course, they don't. Fortunately, you don't have to be a financial pro to make big bucks by taking advantage of market inefficiencies. That can be a full-time job on its own, so it's a good thing some smart folks out there 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 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 savings in the funds they run.

When it comes to mutual fund data points, there are few better indicators of quality than this.

And sleep well
Despite what you may have heard, you can beat the market while sleeping peacefully at night, with help from top-notch mutual funds. The secret is to focus on key criteria such as costs, historical performance during the current managers' tenures, and whether those managers put their money where their mouths are, so to speak.

These are precisely the kinds of funds we seek for members of the Fool's Champion Funds investing service. As an example, one of our picks is a large-cap value specialist whose portfolio recently included eBay. Between 2000 and 2002 -- a time when 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 market volatility, roughly 80% of our recommendations have made money for shareholders since we gave 'em the nod. As a group, they're beating the market, too.

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

This is adapted from a Shannon Zimmerman article originally published on Dec. 12, 2006. It has been updated.

Fool analyst Adam J. Wiederman really has given his wife some nice presents, and only owns shares of Johnson & Johnson out of the companies mentioned above. Johnson & Johnson is an Income Investor recommendation. eBay is a Stock Advisor recommendation. You can check out the Fool's strict disclosure policy while you eat your chocolates.