When Oracle of Omaha Warren Buffett started investing, he was able to parlay $10,000 into a multibillion-dollar conglomerate. Similarly, Shelby Davis began with $50,000, but amassed a $900 million family fortune.

Inspirational stories of stock market success like these give me hope that I'll be able to achieve my own personal financial goals. But I can already hear the objections: What if you don't have $50,000 to launch your investing career? What if your bank account doesn't have $5,000 in it, let alone $10,000, to start building your retirement nest egg? Are you doomed to a life of penury and misery?

No! You don't need a trust fund as large as Trouble's -- the dog owned by the late Leona Helmsley -- to start securing your financial future. In fact, a commitment to regular, small investments, even as little as $50 or $100 a month, can be the start of a million-dollar retirement account.

A four-step plan
The four keys to achieving this goal are:

  • 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 out undervalued small-cap stocks for your greatest returns.

You can beat the market
You know the importance of investing sooner rather than later. And you know that putting small, regular amounts into the stock market can make a big difference over time. But why small caps?

Small caps represent the market segment where investors can hope to make the greatest returns. Small caps give investors the edge, because institutions tend to ignore them, and analysts don't cover them. By the time anyone realizes they're there, they've already grown much larger -- and so have their prices. Even the venerable Eastman Kodak, which traces its lineage back to George Eastman's experiments on his mother's kitchen table, started off as a small company.

To find those small-cap stocks, we'll first run a simple screen, then turn to the Motley Fool CAPS community to validate those choices.

We want companies with market values of less than $2.5 billion to qualify as a small cap, and they should trade at more than $5 a share to weed out penny stocks. I'm also looking for stocks that will grow in the future, and have already begun the process. So I'm looking for companies that had an earnings surprise of 20% or more last quarter, but that also have the prospect of growing earnings at least 20% annually for the next five years, according to analysts.

The CAPS advantage
I then paired them up with the collective investing wisdom of the 65,000 professional and novice investors in the CAPS universe, filtering out all but the highest-rated selections. If the best and brightest CAPS players also think these stocks hold potential, we ought to take notice, too.

Here are some of the top stocks this simple screen found:


Market Cap

Share Price

Earnings Surprise

5-Yr Growth Est.

CAPS Rating

Dobson Communications (NASDAQ:DCEL)

$2.2 billion





Anadigics (NASDAQ:ANAD)

$1.1 billion






$1.3 billion





Thoratec (NASDAQ:THOR)

$1.1 billion





Pharmion (NASDAQ:PHRM)

$1.8 billion





Screen results courtesy of MSN MoneyCentral; CAPS ratings courtesy Motley Fool CAPS.

Of course, this isn't a list of recommended stocks to buy. We need to look a little more closely at these companies to see whether analysts' faith in them is well-founded. This is a starting point for more research, but we've got the CAPS community helping us here.

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 think differently. Stock investing is not brain surgery. Finding good, undervalued companies is not as hard 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 to doing it now, and doing it regularly. No amount is too small. Let's get started. There's no time to lose!