A lot of people think they'll never be able to retire. But the dream of early retirement is far from dead. It takes two things to succeed: the determination to keep saving and the best investments to get you past the finish line.

Loss of confidence
The last 10 years have been especially tough on U.S. investors. After a booming stock market that sent stocks to new records, the bottom fell out of the market not once but twice in the ensuing decade. Even now, after a huge stock market rally that has pushed the S&P 500 up 75% from their 2009 lows, stocks are essentially exactly where they were back in late 2000.

For investors who count on strong and consistent returns from their investments, those kinds of results are a real downer. According to the Employee Benefits Research Institute's latest retirement confidence survey from earlier this year, a stock market that's gone nowhere has an increasing number of people believing that they'll have to postpone their retirement well beyond age 65. Nearly 1 in 10 think they'll never be able to retire, while a full third expect that their last day of work will come at age 66 or later.

So if the market's apparent lack of direction and hair-raising volatility have you thinking that you'll never trade in your work clothes for a pair of Bermuda shorts, you're not alone. But if you still have some time left before you hit your 60s, then you don't have to admit defeat just yet. The right stocks can help you reach your goals.

Stocks to get you to quitting day
Yesterday , I looked at stocks that even people who were already retired could use to boost their income and improve their odds of a secure retirement for years to come. But if you have some time left before you see the office for the last time, a different set of criteria will help you find investments that are the most promising. They include:

  • Room to run. If you're like most investors, you have plenty of exposure to huge megacap companies in your core investment portfolio. But to help you get more bang for your buck, you should look to add stocks that are still small -- $5 billion in market cap or smaller.
  • Internal reinvestment. Dividend stocks are great for investors of all ages. But if you're looking for maximum capital appreciation, you want to own businesses that still see better growth potential from reinvesting spare cash back into the company than in paying dividends. So we'll focus on non-dividend-paying stocks.
  • Growth. If a small company has found a way to keep sales rising even during the recession, it could absolutely knock the socks off its competitors in an ordinary expansion. The six stocks below have all grown their revenue at a 10% clip of faster in the past three years.
  • Payoff. When markets rise, volatility becomes your friend. These stocks have all been at least twice as volatile as the overall market in recent years, meaning that they've taken some pretty hard falls -- but they've also bounced back.

After looking at all those conditions, these are some of the stocks that pass the test:


Market cap in millions

3-Year Revenue Growth

3-Year Beta

Coventry Health (NYSE: CVH) 3,490 13% 2.02
Hecla Mining (NYSE: HL) 1,720 13% 2.25
ReneSola (NYSE: SOL) 1,030 59% 3.10
TriQuint Semiconductor (Nasdaq: TQNT) 1,470 15% 2.20
Westport Innovations (Nasdaq: WPRT) 680 28% 2.28
Warren Resources (Nasdaq: WRES) 290 12% 2.94

Source: Motley Fool CAPS. As of Oct. 22.

Unlike our retiree picks from yesterday, these stocks aren't for the meek. Coventry doubled its profits in its latest earnings report thanks to low health-care costs and higher membership, but it's still subject to the uncertainties of health-care reform. Hecla and Warren Resources are riding high on booming investor interest in natural resources, whose long-term prospects are good but which can be extremely volatile over shorter periods of time. Westport and ReneSola are both following the trend toward greener energy, whether it comes from abundant natural gas or the light of the sun. And TriQuint has ridden the coattails of Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL) success with the iPhone, but whether that will turn into a lasting business remains to be seen.

Be bold
Getting to retirement during tough economic times isn't easy. But if you have the courage to seek out and invest in stocks with the greatest potential, you'll see your chances of an early retirement increase greatly.

Get more ideas for interesting stocks. Click here to get the Motley Fool's free report, 5 Stocks the Motley Fool Owns ... and You Should, Too.

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 Dan Caplinger has always believed in early retirement. He and the Fool own shares of Apple. Apple and Coventry Health Care are Motley Fool Stock Advisor picks. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. The Fool's disclosure policy will never quit on you.