Abstract : In this chapter, we illustrate the advantage of variational principles for modeling water waves from an elementary practical viewpoint. The method is based on a `relaxed' variational principle, i.e., on a Lagrangian involving as many variables as possible, and imposing some suitable subordinate constraints. This approach allows the construction of approximations without necessarily relying on a small parameter. This is illustrated via simple examples, namely the Serre equations in shallow water, a generalization of the Klein-Gordon equation in deep water and how to unify these equations in arbitrary depth. The chapter ends with a discussion and caution on how this approach should be used in practice.