I have had some trouble with this verse and finally decided to look it up in some Bible Study notes. The definitions below give some clues, as well.
Proverbs 12: 9
9 Better is the one who is slighted but has a servant,
Than he who honors himself but lacks bread.
Here are the definitions of the main words. The Bible commentary that I used said that the part about “honoring himself” meant that the person was arrogant, so I added the definition for that word as well.
slighted: 1. To treat as of small importance; make light of. 2. To treat with discourteous reserve or inattention.
honor: 1. High respect, as that shown for special merit; 2. Good name; reputation. 3. Glory or recognition; distinction.
lacks: To be without or in need of
arrogance: The state or quality of being arrogant; overbearing pride.
A person who is “slighted,” is one who is looked down on or made light of. They are treated discourteously by ignoring them purposely. The person that is spoken of in the first part of this verse, is well off enough, though, to have a servant. He may not be treated nicely by those around him, and he may even be ignored, but he doesn’t come to his own defense. He is humble.
The second part of the verse speaks of a person who “honors HIMSELF.” He acts like he is something special, and seeks after glory or recognition, putting himself above others. Another word that describes this attitude (as given in the Bible Commentary I used from my NKJV Bible’s notes) is arrogance, or an overbearing pride.
The person that is being arrogant and prideful in THIS case is one that doesn’t even have enough money to buy bread.
The point of this verse is that even if you are treated badly by those that around you, but you still are “solvent” enough, or have enough money to have a servant, you are much better off than someone who is to prideful and arrogant to do what needs to be done to help to support himself and/or his family.