President Reagan said today he would bet the rent money that his economic program will work, and dismissed its critics as "Chicken Littles."

In a strong defense of the program, Reagan said, "We will not practice dilettante economics. We are committed to our economic plan and we are committed to achieving it by holding to a firm, steady course over the long run."

Reagan asked for patience to give the plan time to work.

"Our economic plan is to begin with the 1982 fiscal year on Oct. 1. I am as convinced today as I was when we introduced the package that this economic plan is as good as money in the bank--and if I were a betting man, I would wager the rent money on it," Reagan said.

The president told the National Federation of Republican Women's convention here that he is determined to fight "to the last blow" to balance the budget by 1984 and is working to hold a 1982 budget deficit close to his target of $42.5 billion.

"We will not sit on our hands and watch helplessly as the deficit swells and swells," Reagan said. "We will make further reduction in the 1982 budget and billions and billions of dollars of additional spending cuts in 1983 and 1984."

Reagan dismissed "Chicken Littles" and "those others who recklessly play on high interest rates for their own narrow political purpose," but said he understood how some people had turned into skeptics as the government preached economy year after year while plunging deeper into debt.

"Well, this is what we're going to change," he said.

"We must have determination and patience. And let me say to our friends in the financial market: I hope the people on Wall Street will pay attention to the folks on Main Street. If they do, they'll see that there is a rising tide of confidence in the future of America."

When the financial markets see evidence that federal spending is being reduced, "their tune will change," he said.

Speaking at the end of the week in which he decided to propose postponement of cost-of-living increases for federal pensioners, Reagan said that polls show a declining faith in Social Security.

Reagan said he is "especially optimistic" about that provision in the just-passed tax bill that will permit private retirement accounts for people who are covered by employer pension plans.

"With these accounts we are reintroducing the idea of the retirement nest egg," he said.

The president flew here from Grand Rapids, Mich., where he introduced former president Gerald R. Ford at the formal dedication of a museum of Ford's presidency.

At the outdoor ceremony, Reagan hailed Ford as one of his predecessors in the battle to reduce federal spending.

Reagan, who tried to end the Ford presidency in 1976 by challenging the incumbent for the Republican nomination, said that when Ford turned over the Oval Office to Jimmy Carter in 1977 "the economy was again moving in the right direction."

"He showed the way, and he showed that it can be done," Reagan said of the effort to restore the economy while increasing U.S. defense spending.

At the ceremony dedicating the triangular Ford museum on the bank of the Grand River, Reagan said that Americans "will not long remember" the words spoken today in tribute to Ford, but they will recall Ford as "a good president who led us well: a good man who sought to serve others."

Among the museum displays Reagan toured as part of the opening ceremony is a full-scale replica of the White House Oval Office, a display recalling the 1976 bicentennial, one on the Ford-ordered military operation against Cambodia to rescue the freighter Mayaguez and the original letter of resignation by then-president Richard M. Nixon that began the 30-month Ford presidency.

Reagan quoted the words Ford spoke in taking office after Nixon's departure: "Our long national nightmare is over."

"Gerald Ford healed America because he so thoroughly understood America. His was and is an unquestioning belief in the soundness of our way of governing and in the resiliency of our people," Reagan said.

The president had a trilateral breakfast meeting before the museum ceremony with Mexican President Jose Lopez Portillo and Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau.

About 2,000 Republican women welcomed Reagan here with cheers and waving flags, and he began his remarks by defending his administration's record on hiring women.

Although the only woman in his Cabinet is U.N. Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick and the most prominent woman in the White House, Elizabeth Dole, is often not seen in high-level White House meetings, Reagan said, "We soon will have appointed more women to substantive jobs than any other administration in history. And let me assure you, this is only the beginning."

Reagan said he is especially proud of his appointee to the Supreme Court, Sandra D. O'Connor. He called her "a new justice for a new American era."

Reagan concluded his speech with an emotional reading of a letter from an Iowa mother whose son had recently left home to join a branch of the armed forces.

The president appeared close to tears as he read the woman's mournful but loving account of her feelings as she sat one night in her son's empty bedroom.

She ended: "And please be especially careful with the country just now."

"I will be very careful," Reagan said in a hushed voice.