It is advocated to carry out an optimization procedure, which is based upon the variational method, in such a way that the optimum values of the variational parameters are expressed as functions of physical constants, such as the atomic number, Z. The three stages involved in this treatment are illustrated by the optimization of nine correlated wave functions, which describe the ground states of atomic two-electron systems. An analysis of the Z-expansions of the total energies associated with these functions leads to the concept of a class of variational functions. The performances of functions belonging to the same class differ only marginally, especially at larger values of Z. Consequently, the concept of class may be used to bring some order in the plethora of variational functions. © 1994 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.