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Deleting the original file is a very bad idea.
The easiest solution I have found is to organize the photos like this:
Each event/date folder has two subfolders -- "originals" and "exports".
The respective files go in each. There is no confusion about which files are where.
Save Virtual Copies, not real copies. You can have 20 different VCs, i.e. 20 different versions of the original, all of them SAVED in the catalog which grows by only a few kb with each one, and the original remains untouched. When the time comes that you need to use a particular version, that is the time for exporting, but not until then - because your changes are already saved. Just be sure to backup the catalog and your original photo files.
Like Joe says - deleting the original is an extremely bad idea.
And there is no need to export unless you need to use the image for a particular purpose - like printing or emailing.
If you don't need the image for a particular purpose, don't do anything - if you just want to look at the edited image, you can do that in Lightroom.
So I think the answer is that there is no simple way to save simple changes, you have to export into a file.
Suppose I make a collection which includes all edits instead of exporting and then export when I am totally done with the project. Does a catalog back up include a back up the collections or do I need to export the collection to have a back up of the collection?
LR is a Non Destructive editor. It does not change the original file, Ever. The only way to BURN, APPLY, those edits into the file for all time is to Export it as a New File.
A Collection is just a grouping of files so all those files can be viewed at the same time. Whether they are all in one folder or in many different folders spread out over many hard drives.
Same goes for how the edits are stored and applied to the images. Until you export it as a new file all the edits are only viewable in LR.
Take a look at some of these tutorials to get familiar with how LR works.
I'm not sure if you have a good understanding of how Lightroom works.
All the edits you do are automatically saved to the catalog, without any action on your part.
The same goes for collections, ratings, keywords etc.
To back up a collection, you simply back up the catalog, which Lightroom will do at the interval you specify.
Note that Lightroom does not back up your photos - you have to do that yourself.
For more information on how Lightroom works, see Lightroom basics
Thanks for your help. I for sure do not have a good understanding of Lightroom. I am trying to convert from Picasa which did all the simple edits I needed and easily saved them in windows explorer to lightroom which is much more powerful but also more complex. So I am using lightroom basics, tutorials, the manual to work through a couple of sample projects. I have also found out that the communities are very helpful details that I cannot figure out.